Reflections from Copenhagen


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COPENHAGEN — Everyone knew that forging a climate-change agreement in Copenhagen would be a formidable task. For two weeks, delegates from 193 countries, all with varying perspectives, have deliberated and bargained in public and in private, attempting to broker a new international agreement — largely unsuccessfully.

But as we stand only 24 hours from the conclusion of the conference, what has inhibited this conference most is a lack of political will. Representatives from around the world have failed to rise to the level that the moment mandates.

Observers lowered expectations coming into Copenhagen in recognition that a comprehensive, legally binding deal was unattainable. And, to a certain extent, that was OK. We were making progress, and a series of commitments from the United States, China, India, and the European Union just before the conference provided much-needed momentum.

That momentum has been lost.

Countries have not reached a consensus on the key issues: emission levels, climate finance for adaptation and mitigation, monitoring and verification, and a deadline for a binding agreement.

My cynical prognosis could be premature. I still find hope just because 193 nations have gathered in Copenhagen to combat climate change and recognize it as an established fact. Eventually some type of agreement that squares with the science must come to fruition. And there still is the possibility that when the actual leaders arrive in Copenhagen, they could strike a deal. I hope so. But with only hours remaining, my suspicion is that we’ll walk away with a much more watered-down agreement than originally expected, punting the resolution of many issues into the future.

There are many narratives and several stories to tell from this conference. Nongovernmental organizations showed up by the thousands, attempting to influence the negotiations. The first few days of the conference, people from around the globe flooded the halls, primarily to support an international agreement. International youth showed up in a big way as well. Young people were granted official constituency status for the first time ever, which allowed them to have an official and functional role in all of the proceedings. Of this youth delegation, U.S. youth were the largest.

U.S. youth focused mostly on advocacy, making the U.S. delegation transparent, and holding the members accountable using not only social-media tools such as Facebook and Twitter but also Skype to phone the States and ask people to call their representatives and the White House and to write letters to the editor. Moving forward, I predict that young people will play an even more critical and effective role in international meetings similar to this one.

There were very dark moments during the conference as well. Protests erupted into violence, and there were hundreds of arrests. The police presence outside of the conference center appeared too heavy-handed. Entrances to the conference were lined with security forces. Several reports of excessive force circulated inside and outside conference halls.

I’ve been very fortunate to attend this conference. Copenhagen — while dark most of the time and cold — is a beautiful European city. I have learned, seen, and experienced so much. And I hope young people understand the significance of what happened in Copenhagen.

Let’s assume that you accept the scientific consensus behind climate change and recognize the dire implications if nothing is done. You will live in a world that will experience even more environmental shocks. It will be a world in which poverty will be exacerbated.

Generations of today and tomorrow will inherit a world on a pathway toward serious danger — or perhaps a a little bit more hopeful and equitable — because of what happens in Copenhagen.

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