Column: A view from CopenhagenRUSHMORE — As one of the largest snow storms in decades encroached on our local area this week, it is hard to imagine that our planet’s temperature is rising. But melting ice in other regions is causing sea levels to rise putting millions of people’s livelihoods in danger, and the call to try and stop trends from damaging our environment became more convincing to me after I attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
By: Erin Schutte, Special to the Daily Globe, Worthington Daily Globe
RUSHMORE — As one of the largest snow storms in decades encroached on our local area this week, it is hard to imagine that our planet’s temperature is rising. But melting ice in other regions is causing sea levels to rise putting millions of people’s livelihoods in danger, and the call to try and stop trends from damaging our environment became more convincing to me after I attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
I represented Yale University at the Climate Change Conference, otherwise known as COP15, from Dec. 14-19. I was granted observer status and entrance into the Bella Center to attend Side Events led by experts and world leaders, as well as access to some of the top negotiations. I reached the Bella Center before dawn each morning with hopes of beating the rush of delegates to get through security, and before getting held up by hordes of protesters outside. Once inside the conference center, I joined the massive crowds of people scurrying in all directions, and did my best to take advantage of extraordinary opportunities to learn from the experts, join in on negotiations and report ground-breaking news.
During the final days of the conference, deliberation stalled and emotions soared among delegates in the High Plenary, the big room for negotiations, while several heads of state spoke behind the podium pleading for action on behalf of their nations. I was one of the few fortunate observers amongst hundreds of diplomats and world leaders at this meeting, and it was here that I understood the complexities of international relations due to alliances, individual nations’ needs and the timing urgency of climate change.
“I have the feeling of dread that we are on the Titanic and sinking fast,” announced a delegate from the small island of Tuvalu. “It is time to launch the lifeboats and save the process. Consider the legal text and move forward.” Tuvalu, a member of The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), already sees devastating effects of climate change on its homeland due to rising sea level, and therefore was one of the most firm advocates of acting fast in Copenhagen. The Maldives, another small island country belonging to the AOSIS, already set up a trust fund to buy a patch of land in Australia to relocate the entire Maldivian population when its islands submerge in an estimated 30 years.
Developing countries like these islands suffer the most from the effects of climate change, but international superpowers, such as the U.S., are the largest contributors to carbon emissions that cause global warming. Therefore, the superpowers must make the most significant legislative changes once an international agreement is made, which is why these countries are seen as lagging behind in their efforts.
For these reasons, many nations accuse the U.S. of not doing enough to lower carbon emissions and commit to an agreement. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who has a history of poor relations with the U.S., addressed the High Plenary and harshly criticized powerful countries. “We won’t be able to reduce material consumption if we don’t ensure that the powerful come down a few steps and bring equality. We need to consume less and distribute things better,” urged Chavez. He argued for a single agreement to come out of Copenhagen, and was adamant that the only way to do this is through socialism. “Capitalism is the road to hell!” were Hugo Chavez’ parting remarks. I sat stunned as I listened to this man, but realized that he was the radical figure who represented many developing nations that didn’t have the power to voice their concerns.
The Copenhagen Accord, which was the final agreement at the conference, doesn’t satisfy the initial goals for an agreement because it is not internationally binding, and disputable text in the agreement was simply excluded. However, it’s not fair to declare COP15 a failure. Despite the varying dichotomies at COP15 — the rich and the poor, the developed and the least developed, the capitalists and the communists, and democracies and the dictatorships — there was never before seen progress on climate change as it is finally reaching political forefront. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon perfectly summed up the situation during an event I attended. “Every country has domestic problems and national agendas, but this is a global challenge, and we need a global response.” World leaders will meet in Mexico City in 2010 to continue to pursue a binding agreement. These leaders have shown the international community that climate change is important, and I believe this conference will encourage global citizens to become active at their local level.
On a personal level, the inter-workings of COP15 exposed me to international relations first-hand, encompassing everything I’ve studied in textbooks during my education in Worthington when I first became interested in foreign policy. Being in Copenhagen where all the action took place proved to me the commitment and passion of so many countries working together to control climate change. If awareness and support for climate change efforts can continue to spread throughout the international community, I have high hopes that world leaders are doing everything they can to offer us a promising future for our world.
Erin Schutte of Rushmore is a sophomore at Yale University majoring in Political Science and Modern Middle East Studies. To read more about her personal accounts at COP15, visit www.global21online.org/blog.