COPENHAGEN, Dec. 7, 2009 — -- The two-week United Nations Climate Change conference officially kicked off in Copenhagen this morning. The conference is expected to attract 15,000 delegates, activists and journalists from around the globe.
Delegates arriving at the conference center today were met by a small but loud group of protesters beating drums and chanting.
"What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!" they yelled.
Delegates from 192 nations filled the gigantic meeting room in Copenhagen's Bella Center to begin hammering out a global climate agreement to cut greenhouse gases that a vast majority of scientists say are driving climate change. At the end of the second week of the conference, 110 world leaders will arrive in Copenhagen including President Barack Obama.
Delegates will tackle several sticking points, including how much wealthy, major polluters like the United States should cut their greenhouse gas output.
"Differences can be overcome if the political will is present, and I believe it is," declared Lars Lokke Rasmussen, Denmark's prime minister.
Obama will bring with him a proposal to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020, and pledge an 83 percent reduction by 2050. China and India have also pledged their own cuts.
The proposals, however, don't promise an emissions cut of 25 to 40 percent by 2020 - the goal sought by the U.N.'s top climate official Yvo de Boer. Scientists also say the proposed cuts are not enough to keep Earth's warming climate from uncharted territory.
"There's a limit on how much gases you can put in before Mother Nature shows you what the climate system will do. And Mother Nature bats last," said climate scientist Richard Somerville with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Another issue is how much money rich countries should pay to help poor nations adapt to climate change. De Boer said developing nations need at least $10 billion of aid a year, beginning immediately.
"Developing countries desperately need tangible, immediate action on these crucial issues," he said.
Forging a Blueprint for Further Talks
The opening ceremony began with a dramatic short film portraying a young girl who, after watching news reports on climate change, has a nightmare in which she finds herself trying to escape from a series of tornadoes, floods, and other global weather catastrophes.
"Please help the world," the girl pleads, facing the camera.
During the ceremony, the head of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defended the organization against claims by global warming naysayers that e-mails stolen from a British research university show climate scientists fudging data to promote the idea that humans are contributing to global warming.
"The recent incident of stealing the e-mails of scientists at the University of East Anglia shows that some would go to the extent of carrying out illegal acts perhaps in an attempt to discredit the IPCC," said IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri.
"The IPCC assessment process is designed to ensure consideration of all relevant scientific information from established journals with robust peer review processes," he said.
Officials acknowledge that talks here are not expected to result in a legally binding treaty but will provide a blueprint for climate talks going forward. A formal treaty will likely have to wait until at least the next major climate meeting in Mexico at the end of 2010.
Denmark's former climate minister Connie Hedegaard, however, urged delegates to seek an ambitious outcome in Copenhagen.
"Let's get it done!" she told the crowd of delegates. "Political will will never be stronger. This is our chance. If we miss it, it could take years before we get a new and better one."