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Copenhagen for Dummies: What Came of the Climate Conference?

Many people are unaware of its implications — even its existence — but an upcoming two-day event at UCSB aims to raise awareness

[Noozhawk’s note from Sarah Ettman-Sterner, Green Hawk interactive producer: Green Hawk provides a forum for me to reach readers with current information, news, trends and views on the state of the environment and sustainable living. Unlike some traditional news sources in print, on TV or the Web, the objective is to position rich, interactive content focused on Santa Barbara’s “green scene” on the front lines of Noozhawk, instead of burying it in the back, out of sight and out of mind. Green Hawk is also the place to feature the thoughts and opinions of young people interested in protecting the environment, students who are poised to inherit the Earth and the responsibilities that go with this endeavor. It is my pleasure to introduce you to and welcome Emily Williams, a first-year environmental studies major at UCSB. As a Green Hawk intern and contributor, Emily fills a valuable niche. She is Green Hawk’s eyes and ears — on the “prowl” at UCSB and on the scene in Isla Vista, seeking out stories and activities to share with our community. Originally from San Francisco’s South Bay area, she grew up with both a Northern and Southern California eco-mentality. Emily’s interest in the environment evolved from her annual summer visits to the beach. When she’s not in classes or focusing on the environmental issues that surround us, Emily says she “loves sunsets and long walks on the beach. Other than that, it’s all about music!”]

Copenhagen, Denmark, the United Nations Climate Change Conference — the conference to change the world.

Emily Williams
Emily Williams

Ringing a bell? Don’t feel bad if it doesn’t. The sad truth is this much-anticipated, “world-renowned” conference already happened — with many none the wiser of its occurrence.

First off, for us common folk, what was the conference all about? From Dec. 7-18, 2009, leaders of 192 countries around the world (including the United States, Great Britain and China) met to discuss ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere to 350 ppm. 350 ppm? That’s a fancy way of saying that for every million particles of “stuff” in the air, only 350 of those particles are carbon dioxide. The sad truth is, we’re at 388 ppm.

It also was the aim of the conference to keep temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius. (The fact that even an increase of 2 degrees Celsuis would be catastrophic to ocean and terrestrial life doesn’t seem to factor into the political thought process.)

What came of it, other than a bunch of fancy jargon? Nothing.

A document called the Copenhagen Accord was written and signed by a handful of the countries in attendance, including the United States, China, India, South Africa and Brazil. Not only did they fail to sign the document, but the agreement itself has no legally binding requirements.

According to the accord, these countries “emphasize [their] strong political will to urgently combat climate change” with “differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” Well, that’s all very well, but what does that mean? It means that the countries want the issue of climate change to be solved but don’t want to take on the responsibility themselves. It’s oh-so much easier to let some other country do the work.

Click here to view the Webcast.

The Copenhagen Accord wasn’t all bad. It did one thing: It got the countries to agree that action must be taken, and there was general acknowledgment that climate change is a serious issue that will take the world cooperating together to solve. Gulp! Since when has the world been able to work together? Maybe this will be a first.

So, why was the world so oblivious to this eye-opening meeting? There’s the argument that most people don’t even know where Copenhagen is (it’s in Denmark, by the way, aka Northern Europe). But even well-read university students had the deer-in-the-headlights stare when asked what they thought about the Copenhagen summit. Need proof?

I was curious just how ignorant people were to the existence and outcomes of the conference, so I put together a little survey and posted it on the most-checked Web site — Facebook. Strangely enough, it was hard enough even getting responses. Yet, after repeated postings of the survey, I got the following consensus. My worst fears were confirmed.

A banner denounces COP 15, the Denmark conference, accusing it of producing false solutions
A banner denounces COP 15, the Denmark conference, accusing it of producing false solutions. (Andrew Dunn photo)

My survey reached high school students, college students and graduates. My first question was whether they knew what the Copenhagen conference was. The response? Fifty percent were clueless. The two people who actually knew what the accord was declared it “an utter failure.” How can you describe the Copenhagen Accord any better?

Why is it that no one knows about it? When I asked if they thought the conference was successfully publicized, there was a uniform response — no. Walking around the UCSB campus in the weeks leading up to the conference, I was struck by the utter lack of any publicity. With UCSB being such an environmentally conscious campus, you would think the campus would be covered in promotion for the upcoming environmental conference between the nations of the world! Well, if you did think so, you thought wrong.

However, all is not lost. We are in luck,because UCSB is doing something to try to redeem the climate-wise-uneducated campus. It sent 24 students to the Copenhagen conference, and now there’s a chance to hear from the students and influential voices in the climate debate! (Click here to check out their blog.)

I’m part of an environmental studies course, ES 193, that is collaborating with UCSB groups on an upcoming conference in the wake of COP 15. The Our Planet, Our Problem Conference will be held April 9 at UCSB, with a student panel discussion on April 10. There will be such speakers as Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board; Kandi Mossett, tribal campus climate challenge organizer; Jim Dehlsen of Wind Powering America; and state Sen. Fran Pavley of District 23, which includes portions of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

I highly encourage one and all to come to these two days of climate discussion, whether or not you’re well-versed in climate jargon. This conference is open to the public (stay tuned to the Web site for details.)

However, if you’re unable to make the trek to this eye-opening event, I will be on the scene. Keep an eye out for a report on the talks.

— Emily Williams is an environmental studies major at UCSB.

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