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Let’s “Cop” to It Now – – An Empty-Handed US Will Be a Party-Pooper

The 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) sounds like a contradiction in terms – – conferences are business-like and dull while parties are, well, fun! But COP 15 is actually the formal name of the annual gathering of nations that participate in the UN’s effort to curb climate change and the “party” is about half a year from now in Denmark. Will the US arrive with little more than a tourist map of Copenhagen and some well-worn stories about China being the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs)?

The 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) sounds
like a contradiction in terms – – conferences are business-like and dull while
parties are, well, fun! But COP 15 is actually the formal name of the annual
gathering of nations that participate in the UN’s effort to curb climate change
and the “party” is about half a year from now in Denmark. Will the US arrive
with little more than a tourist map of Copenhagen and some well-worn stories about
China being the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs)?

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In my view, the US will surprise everyone and arrive with
the suitcase full of robust climate policies, but if the UN insists on sticking
to its formula for a new global climate deal, based on the Kyoto Protocol, the
Americans won’t be the only ones departing
empty handed. The divisions between developed and developing nations,
especially the US and China, are too old and too real to solve with a broad
one-size-fits-all agreement. Instead, we may need a series of mini-deals, each
tackling specific sources of GHGs (by geography and industrial sector), which
taken together creates a mosaic that completes a more detailed, practical
picture.

 

The good news is that these various agreements are already
being drafted, signed, and implemented. For example, at last year’s Governors’
Global Climate Summit in California, US states reached agreements with states
in Brazil and Indonesia that will preserve rainforests, thereby cutting GHGs
instead of trees.

 

In another example, US states and Canadian provinces have
invited China to help design a massive international cap-and-trade system to
use markets to reduce GHGS and ensure that projects are sustainable and
verifiable.

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Other sub-national governments – – usually with US climate
leadership states in the mix – – are signing agreements to reduce GHGs with
measures like energy efficiency R&D and other policy initiatives that pave
the way for their respective national governments to get deals done when they
convene in meetings like the COP15.

 

People forget that the US signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1992
– – but never ratified it. That’s because when policy makers looked inward,
they had no idea how to achieve what had just agreed to and, as a result, there
was no political support for ratification. Today the opposite is true – – 33
states have “climate action plans” that put them on a par with Kyoto
signatories, showing the feds how we can slash GHGs – – and the politics that
usually undermine well-meaning aspirations and agreements.

 

So let’s prepare to party hearty in Denmark in December. The
US will bring a lot of its own policies and programs that are already
effectively reducing GHGs, albeit at the state and regional level – – in many
cases, with international partners already lined up. If the UN builds on this
foundation, along with the great work that many Kyoto signatories have done in
their countries so far, there will be more than funny hats and confetti on the
floor when this party’s over.

About the author

From his youth in Australia to career experiences in Europe, Africa, China and across the United States, Terry has developed expertise in business, farming, education, non-profit, the environment, the arts, and government. A United States Coast Guard-licensed ship captain, Terry has long been drawn to the undersea world, starting in the 1960s with a family-run tropical fish breeding business in Australia and continuing with studies on conch depletion in the Bahamas, manatee populations in Florida coastal waters, and mariculture in the Gulf States with Texas A&M University.

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