Climate Week Raises Consciousness, but Negotiations Fall Short

By Dschabner

Sep 26, 2009 10:15pm

ABC News' Carrie Halperin reports:

The United Nations Environmental Programme’s (UNEP) first ever Climate Week has officially ended. From Sept. 21 to 25 there was a whirlwind of events in more than 100 cities around the world including a high level climate summit at the United Nations Tuesday with more than 100 heads of state.

There was also a flurry of conferences and special gatherings to raise money and awareness about the issue of climate change before a deal is attempted in Copenhagen this December.

The United Nations created a slogan for this week's events, “Seal the Deal,” which has encouraged world leaders to come up with an effective climate deal at the conference at Copenhagen, which is scheduled for Dec. 7-18.

The Copenhagen Agreement has been largely billed as the last time humanity will have a chance to create a deal that could have a substantial effect on climate change, leading U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon to dub 2009 “the year of climate change”.

Still, by the end of the week climate, resolutions on climate issues were left vague and deadlines had been dropped from the negotiating table, decreasing the likelihood that a final proposal would drafted before the world climate Copenhagen summit.

Throughout the week, grassroots programs were intermixed with large meetings of heads of state, and there were tree plantings, green roof tours, forums and talks, as well as an unofficial protest, all to show support for a strong deal in Copenhagen.

Some events were large, such as a movie that premiered from a solar-powered tent in New York City's financial district Monday evening, "The Age of Stupid," a documentary-drama hybrid about a world that failed to deal with climate change. The film was broadcast to a million people around the world in more than 600 cinemas and 40 countries.

Attendees included former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Rajendra Pachuri, chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who warned that the world must start decreasing its carbon emissions by 2015, and stay within a 2-2.4 degree Celsius level rise in temperatures, in order to stop the worst effects of climate change.

Other gatherings were smaller, such as an origami event to create “trees of life and hope in the climate debate," put on by Conservation International. Another event, the human hourglass sculpture put together by Oxfam, in New York, was an attempt to show visually that time was indeed running out on climate change.

The U.N. Climate Summit convened Tuesday with the meeting of 100 heads of state.  It was there that China announced new efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP, and a goal of getting 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources within a decade.  Many applauded the Chinese efforts, but some were left wondering if it would be enough.

“China in each of the last two years has planted two and a half times more trees than the entire rest of the world put together," Chinese President Hu noted in his address Tuesday.  The Chinese president also outlined a goal of planting enough forest to cover an area the size of Norway. 

Hu’s remarks were seen as an important step towards the success of the Copenhagen conference.  Still, China, India, and other developing nations would not agree to binding greenhouse gas cuts. 

By linking increasing emissions with GDP, China may increase emissions, even as it takes long-term efforts to curb them.

Also at the United Nations Tuesday, President Obama spoke of the United States' determination to act.

“The time we have to reverse the tide is running out” he said.

Despite the president's strong words, it is unlikely the Senate will pass a climate bill before Copenhagen, leaving some wondering what bargaining tool Washington will have for Copenhagen, as the largest single emitter of emissions per capita, and the only nation to not ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

Tuesday was also the beginning of the fifth annual gathering of the Clinton Global Initiative, which each year brings together citizens, global leaders, businesspeople and philanthropists to discuss and implement creative ways to address global issues such as climate change, hunger and disease. 

Over the past five years, the initiative has raise $46 billion for various efforts around the world, much of which has helped combat climate change.  This year CGI has already raised more than $8 billion.

CGI was the birthplace of programs like Cash for Clunkers, which allowed thousands to trade in their cars for cleaner counterparts. Other programs to come out of the Clinton Global Initiative include Make it Right, actor Brad Pitt's efforts to create sustainable housing in areas hit by devastation, as well as various clean energy, energy efficiency, and sustainability programs and commitments throughout the world.

The week ended Friday in Pittsburgh with a notable announcement, when the G-20 pledged to end subsidies for fossil fuels, but again, no firm deadlines were set.  The pledge intends to eliminate tax breaks and assistance for oil, coal, and other fossil fuels. 

Environmentalists applauded this as a building block for Copenhagen, but express caution on the long road ahead to actualization. By the end of the week resolutions on climate issues were left vague and with lack of hard deadlines, still many express hope that a deal can still be reached in Copenhagen and reinforced in negotiations to follow.

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