Diplomats from across the world walk past a loud activist set-up handing out “Fossil of the day awards” mocking the countries that are slowing climate negotiations. This was a regular scene in Copenhagen for two weeks of this last December during the UN Climate Negotiations. Non-governmental organizations were present too, ranging from from businesses to environmentalists to researchers. MU professors Mike Urban and Mark Cowell attended as geography researchers.
Negotiations ended with the two researchers and most of the world feeling disappointed. No binding agreement had been reached. And the United States bore much of the responsibility.
Flashback to 1997 and the Kyoto Protocol. “The U.S. wrote the majority of the treaty,” Cowell, said. But when the treaty came to the U.S. senate floor it was never ratified. Delegates pushed hard at the negotiations, and they pushed harder than the country was actually willing to go as it turned out. The U.S. took a lot of flack for not signing its own ideas.
Now here at Copenhagen they were not going to make the same mistake. In fact they agreed to nothing unless it was already a part of the bill on the floor in Congress, according to Cowell.
“The problem,” he said, “is the disassociation between the science and the policy”. Cowell talked about scientist after scientist speaking at the conference, warning of the dangers of climate change. Military leaders even talked about their concern about the effects of climate change and their desire for more sustainability within the armed forces for reasons of national security. Everyone agreed that the time to act was now, but the politics did not.
Another issue at the top of the priority list that Urban and Cowell witnessed throughout their time in Copenhagen was something called climate justice. Essentially smaller countries are going to be affected the most by climate change although they contributed the least. Additionally, as less developed nations try to grow and industrialize, they need more energy, cheap energy more specifically. If there is a limit put on greenhouse gases these developing countries would hypothetically be expected to expand with renewable energies which are currently more expensive. These countries argue that it is unfair when the rest of the world has been allowed to pollute all it wanted on their path to being industrialized nations.
Some nations have chosen to make the hard choice such as the Maldives who are in danger of being swallowed by rising sea levels. They are committed to being the carbon neutral by 2019.
The U.S. still has a ways to go before its people are ready to embark on a commitment of that magnitude. The life of cheap fossil fuels that we have is one that most Americans are not ready to give up, it seems.