© Richard Grossman MD, 2009
Governing a single nation is complex; building agreement between two hundred diverse countries is a monumental task. Getting those nations to solve a global problem, which affects each country differently, is beyond monumental. The United Nations will attempt to do just that this December.
Human ingenuity and population growth have lead to climate change because of carbon emissions from fossil fuels. People have proposed many ways of limiting climate change. This article touches on the diplomatic approach; a future article will look at the most cost-effective tactic—family planning.
In an attempt to limit climate change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was formed in 1992 at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) in Rio. UNFCCC holds annual meetings to consider progress on climate change, called “Conferences of the Parties”. The third one, COP3, was held in Kyoto, Japan, twelve years ago. COP15 will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark this December.
The outcome of COP3 was the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change (often referred to simply as “Kyoto”). This treaty was meant to limit greenhouse gas emissions (especially carbon dioxide). The 184 countries that signed Kyoto agreed to lower emissions by 6 to 8 percent below 1990 levels. Although the USA signed the Protocol, our Senate never ratified it. The Bush administration finally rejected Kyoto in 2001, fearing that its ratification would harm our economy. Kyoto is not strong enough, does not include the USA and expires in 2012. It is time to negotiate another treaty that will be acceptable to all countries.
COP15, nicknamed “Copenhagen”, promises to be a huge affair with 192 countries represented. All the beds in the city have already been reserved so don’t plan on trying to attend at the last minute. The conference will probably not nail down a final document, but we hope that the meeting will generate the skeleton for one. The goal is an enforceable treaty that will significantly decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Hopefully the treaty will be strong enough and enacted quickly enough so that global warming will be limited to one and a half or, at most, two degrees Celsius.
Large UN conferences have preparatory meetings at which much of the conference’s business is actually transacted. Last month the UN hosted the Summit on Climate Change in New York, attended by 100 heads of state. It was unique since its purpose was to encourage participation in COP15 at the highest levels. President Obama was there. In closing his speech he declared “We must seize the opportunity to make Copenhagen a significant step forward in the global fight against climate change.”
At the end of the Summit, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon summarized the meeting by saying: “There is little time left. The opportunity and responsibility to avoid catastrophic climate change is in your hands.”
Since it is unlikely that anyone reading this article attended the Summit or will attend Copenhagen, I suggest two website for information and action. 360.org has the goal of lowering carbon dioxide levels below the current 385 parts per million. Hopenhagen.org strives to make Copenhagen successful. Please join me in signing the petition on this site that begins: “We the peoples of the world urge political leaders to: Seal the Deal at COP15 on a climate agreement that is definitive, equitable and effective.” It ends with the desire that we “…secure climate justice for all.” Equity in greenhouse gas reduction will be the subject of the next column.
Decreasing carbon emissions is vital for our children and grandchildren. The Copenhagen meeting will offer the best chance to do so.
I would like to add a few words about Morley Ballantine, who inspired this column. She was a champion of women’s issues, concerned about human population growth and a defender of access to safe and legal abortion. I asked her in 1994 if she would help me publish a book on population. She said that she couldn’t, but that I could publish it, a chapter at a time, as a column in the Herald. We agreed with a handshake that I would keep the copyrights and be paid $30 a column, which I would donate to Planned Parenthood. Although the Herald has lived up to its part of the bargain, I am not sure that I have always increased my annual gift to Planned Parenthood by $360.
Morley has been one of my inspirations and heroes since then. After a long and illustrious life, she died this month. May she rest in peace.
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