Worries and Warnings Heading Into Copenhagen's Final Week

Sneaky tricks, forgotten victims, and epic battles--the stories observers want told

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The E.U. just pledged $3 billion to help developing countries manage climate change: great, right? This was one of the moves pundits were watching for. But the Copenhagen conference, which runs until December 18, includes a fair amount of show, and some activists are worried the "giant circus" might obscure the real stakes. Here are four things they want readers to remember about the Copenhagen talks, from sly political tricks to hidden maneuvers:

  • Saudis 'Up to Old Tricks' The Saudi Arabian government, writes Nathan Deuel at True Slant, first denied science. Then, they produced an "astounding gambit," arguing that if world leaders were going to "move away from oil AND required that [Saudi Arabia] reduce ... emissions," there ought to be payment. That idea sounds reasonable until one realizes the essential proposition: "one of the wealthiest countries in the world should get billions of dollars to reduce carbon emissions." The Saudis, Deuel argues, have been trying to obstruct climate deals from the beginning, and are continuing the game at Copenhagen. Luckily, "with heavyweights China and India ... signing on for genuine reform, it looks at last like Saudi is no longer in a position of power."
  • Who's Missing: The Victims, the Stories We'll Lose "I have a simple message for this giant circus," writes Alun Anderson: "'Look North.' I know," he continues, "that when you get that many humans together with different viewpoints they just focus on squeezing concessions out of one another and forget that you can't negotiate with the planet." Writing from The Huffington Post, Anderson pulls out the poetry to tell negotiators what humanity will lose through inaction: "The frozen Arctic seas are melting away now," he says. "As the ice goes, so will the iconic creatures of the Arctic." These are the creatures that give us our bedtime stories. Anderson goes beyond polar bears:

The narwhal with its exotic long twisted tusk that inspired the myth of the unicorn will be even harder hit. It specializes in feeding beneath the ice; as the ice goes, new competitors will arrive and so will new predators, including the fearsome killer whale that hunts down whales and seals. None of these creatures will be showing up at Copenhagen.

  • What's Going on Beneath the Surface The Independent's Johann Hari lists three ways emissions cuts, if current proposals are followed, can be exaggerated or straight-up falsified: (1) the U.S., for example, can buy carbon permits from a former Soviet country that was given the permits back before the political-industrial collapse. Just by buying the permit from someone who wasn't using it, the U.S. can claim to have cut emissions--a "legal fiction"; (2) "Britain pays China to abandon a coal power station and construct a hydro-electric dam instead," with Britain therefore allowed to keep its own coal plant while China also counts the move as a carbon cut: "one tonne of carbon cuts is counted twice"; (3) the payment to preserve forests:
[Preserving forests] is an essential measure to stop global warming. But the Canadian, Swedish and Finnish logging companies have successfully pressured their governments into inserting an absurd clause into the rules. The new rules say you can, in the name of "sustainable forest management", cut down almost all the trees - without losing credits. It's Kafkaesque: a felled forest doesn't increase your official emissions... even though it increases your actual emissions.
  • 'Very Slick PR' The Guardian's Leah Borromeo calls Copenhagen attendees "an international who's who of the best-branded campaign groups from Oxfam and ActionAid to those superglue and D-lock specialists Plane Stupid." It's an extremely well-organized show: "Lesser-known groups like Brazil's Land Reform Movement will be there to boost everyone's ethnic credentials. Nothing like rolling out some non-white, non-middle-class people in front of the cameras to add strength to your cause." She's hoping for less brand, more action.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.