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Weekly Mulch: Will Copenhagen be enough?

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The world series of climate change is just around the corner. Next week, global leaders will convene in Copenhagen to discuss how the world will address climate change. The United States and China, who together exhaust 40% of the world’s emissions, have already committed to reducing their carbon output. But will it be enough? In an interview with Paul Jay of The Real News, British environmental writer George Monbiot, argues that the cuts major leaders are proposing don’t match up with what the science demands. (Video below)

“If we’re to prevent two degrees of global warming—and we’ve kind of got to prevent more than two degrees, because that’s the point beyond which a lot of the world’s natural systems start to go into meltdown—then we’re going to need much, much bigger cuts than they’re proposing,” explains Monbiot. “… So it’s not looking too hot for Copenhagen—or, rather, it is looking too hot. It’s not looking cool enough for Copenhagen.”

Monbiot also notes that many “First World” leaders don’t feel a sense of urgency because climate change has not yet reared its ugly head in their home states. However, we have a moral responsibility to help poorer nations and curb climate change.

Others are still optimistic that Copenhagen will be valuable. Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones points out that the U.S. and China have finally made commitments to “concrete” numbers, “raising hopes that the summit will make some advances even in the absence of a binding treaty.” Meanwhile, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen anticipates a “politically binding” agreement that includes 2020 targets for rich nations, and a 2010 deadline for a final treaty to emerge.

Unfortunately, climate change has already become a harsh reality for much of the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that rising sea levels and more violent storms endanger low-lying nations and coastal areas. Also in Mother Jones: Rachel Morris highlights the first country “to be rendered unlivable by global warming” and the world’s first climate refugees. Tuvalu is the world’s fourth smallest country, situated between Australia and Hawaii. The highest point on land is just 16 feet above the water, which Tuvaluans now wittily refer to as “Mount Howard” after the former Australian prime minister who refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Due to their sparse population, many Tuvaluans have been able to migrate to Auckland, New Zealand. Densely populated “global warming hot spots like Africa’s Sahel, coastal Bangaldesh and Vietnam’s deltas” might not be so lucky and will create an unprecedented displacement dilemma.

“Yet little has been done to prepare,” Morris writes. “In fact, our understanding of exactly how global warming will affect people—how many lives will be threatened, and what we could do to avert a succession of humanitarian disasters—remains extremely rudimentary. As Bill Gates has caustically observed, ‘It is interesting how often the impact of climate change is illustrated by talking about the problems the polar bears will face rather than the much greater number of poor people who will die unless significant investments are made to help them.’”

Sarah van Gelder of Yes! Magazine argues that drastic measures are necessary to avert disaster. But how can we do this when a binding treaty is improbable? “We can’t leave it to our leaders to fix it; the possibility only exists if we rise up and act now.”

Van Gelder recounts how the American people mobilized to do everything they could in the face of World War II: “We converted automobile factories to tank factories and learned to recycle everything. The unemployed got jobs – even those previously excluded from the workforce, like women and people of color.” We need to address the climate crisis in a similar manner and take advantage of clean-energy opportunities. Much like World War II, climate mobilization can help build a new, green economy and a sustainable future.

But what will happen after the Copenhagen conference? Grist’s Terry Tamminen outlines a carbon calendar with key future events. In January, the Senate will work to hash out a significant climate bill; at least 10,000 U.S. facilities will begin measuring their carbon emissions under new Environmental Protection Agency rules; and California’s “early action” incentives to pick low-hanging carbon fruit will begin.

On Earth Day this April, the U.S. will sign a climate bill that will reduce emissions and launch a nationwide carbon cap-and-trade market. In June, “climate action plans” in dozens of other states will kick into gear. Measures include new energy efficiency standards, renewable energy mandates and participation in the cap-and-trade program. Finally, a year from now, world leaders will reconvene in Mexico City for Cop16 to adopt the climate deal that will replace the Kyoto Protocol.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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