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End of COP15: Our Work Begins Now

December 20, 2009

The climate talks are over now. The 119 world leaders are packing their bags and headed to their respective countries and many of them will tell their constituents that much progress was made.

Unfortunately, very little progress was made relative to how high the expectations were for this conference. It was supposed to be the end of 12 years of negotiations since we signed the last major global agreement on climate change in 1997 (the Kyoto Protocol).

What we could have had

Here is a quick review of the possible outcomes from these past two weeks of negotiations:

1) A new commitment phase for Kyoto + a new deal that included language from Kyoto AND had the US signed on and it all went into effect immediately.

2) Throwing out Kyoto (which would remove the punishments that developed countries would have for not reducing their emissions during the first commitment period) and only signing a new commitment.

3) Realizing that they aren’t ready to sign anything. Then they could figure out which parts they can agree on and that will be an outline for the year moving forward. Then they will set a timeline and a process for how to complete the treaty within the next year. By that time, a senate bill will have been passed and they can make a LEGALLY binding deal.

4) Signing a greenwashed accord that doesn’t really have any impact and is only politically binding, but it makes it look like they did something meaningful.

5) Everything falls apart and nothing is signed at all.

No one really expected #1. We thought #2 had a slim chance. What we were really pushing for was #3 because it would eventually result in something meaningful. What we got was something between #4 & #5 because not even all of the countries could sign on to the greenwashing because they knew it was meaningless.

There’s still a chance we can get something like #3 (a plan for a legally binding deal next year) but it’s unclear at the moment where we stand because things were so crazy. No one here can even fully analyze what just happened or where it leaves us. This was certainly supposed to be the climax, but we’ll see if they can keep the momentum going until next year.

Where we are at now

The result from the negotiations (as I understand it) was a document created by the developed countries that lists the efforts to reduce carbon pollution that they would have done even if there were no negotiations. Many countries entirely rejected it since it was produced outside of the normal UN negotiating process and it didn’t really have anything meaningful in it. Since not all of the countries could agree to the document, it didn’t become part of the official agreement at the end of the negotiations. The chair of the talks said that the most they could do was “take note of it”. As far as I know, no other meaningful document came out of the talks.

The mood here in Copenhagen is a mix of disappointment, confusion and hope for the future. All of the people I talk to are torn between feeling absolutely furious that no leadership was present at COP15 and feeling like we must focus on what we can do to improve the situation as we move forward.

Moving Forward

There was a great debrief with all the US youth yesterday where we formed a plan for the next 12 months on how we can get the US senate to pass a climate bill so the US has a better bargaining chip on the table next year at COP16. We made plans about how to be a more cohesive group with a strong strategy instead of being very reactionary to what happened on a particular day. We broke into working groups and discussed what the next steps necessary to make this all happen.

Copenhagen was supposed to be the climax of years of negotiating and it turned out to be mostly a flop. Personally, I think it will be hard to keep that momentum going into COP16 in Mexico which didn’t have high expectations like COP15.

In the weeks to come everyone will have a chance to digest what happened (and didn’t happen) here in Copenhagen. This is where the expectations for COP16 will be set. The least that our leaders can do is build pressure for COP16 so that it has high expectations and has a chance of producing a legally binding deal.

President Obama also needs to hold a lot of bilateral meetings with some of the power players (like China and India) so that everyone is on the same page and ready to produce an agreement before we get to Mexico City (for COP16) next year.


It is our job to make to sure that all of these necessary elements are ready in time. Time is certainly our biggest threat right now. Scientists say that we must start drastically reducing our emissions within the next five years and we must reduce them by 80-90% by the year 2050 if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change. Nature doesn’t negotiate, so we have to make sure our elected officials find the political will to start taking serious action within that time frame. If they choose not to act, they are bargaining away our futures, not their own. How old will our negotiators and politicians be in 2050?


State of the Negotiations: Wednesday Week Two

December 16, 2009

I wanted to provide some updates on where the actual negotiations are.

The purpose of the international climate talks are to produce a global deal to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions that cause global climate change.

Essentially, the negotiations are in a deadlock because the developing countries are demanding strong commitments from developed countries. Developed countries continue to block progress, insert loopholes, and put forward weak emissions reductions targets.

The small island nations, which will be underwater in the near future due to sea level rise have proposed the most ambitious treaties, but they have little to offer politically because their economies are so small and they did nothing to contribute to the problem..
Read more…

‘Bound’ for Survival in Copenhagen

December 16, 2009

Sorry for lack of posts over the last week. It’s been hard to find time to write anything up.

There has been some frustration over the last couple days over the entire deadlock that the negotiations are in. The youth have been looking into how we can escalate our tactics to show our negotiators that it is unacceptable that they are condemning our futures by being unwilling to reach a compromise.

While some of the youth are planning civil disobedience, the Cascade Climate Network came together to plan an action inside the Bella Center. We decided to work closely with delegates and negotiators from countries that are most vulnerable.

The president of the Maldives, an country who will not have land if sea level rises due to climate change, agreed to bind himself to US youth (from the CCN) to symbolize the fact that survival of these countries is dependent on leadership from the United States. President Obama has the power to move these negotiations forward and we wanted to demonstrate that visually.
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The Daily Commute to COP15

December 10, 2009

I wanted to document what my trip to and from the conference looks like. There are a lot of cool things about how Copenhagen is organized and how people get around.

A lot of little fun facts about this city are embedded in the captions below.

Daily Trip to COP15

The apartment where I'm staying. It's the second floor of the building. My hosts were kind enough to give me a key so I can get in and out whenever I need to.

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International Youth Flash Dance at COP15

December 9, 2009

The weekend before COP15 started, during the Conference of Youth, all of the international youth planned a sweet action! It’s called a “flash dance”. You show up in one place and the same time and act casual, then everyone suddenly does the exact same thing, much to the surpise of all the random people in the area.

I was lucky enough to get to the Bella Center (where COP15 is being held) in time to participate:

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US Youth Moment of Power

December 9, 2009

young people with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson
The most amazing moment that I have experienced so far happened yesterday!

The youth demonstrated our power by filling a briefing room, having prepared questions and getting to ask 6 of the 9 questions during the “off the record” briefing with US negotiators.

An SSC blog post puts it better than I can:

As EPA Chief Jackson took her seat at the panel, a standing ovation marked the beginning of an amazing evening. Although I cannot disseminate exact details of the briefing, the atmosphere was positive and buzzing with energy. After an interesting brief on the US policy position by Pershing and a brief speech by Jackson, the floor was opened for questions. In the row in front of me, a US Youth Delegate donning a PowerShift t-shirt was called on. As she began her question, she announced that she was in attendance along with over 500 American Youth. She turned around, and about 80% of the room waved to our negotiators. Now that is an illustration of power.

Seeing all of the youth in the room wave simultaneously is a moment that I won’t forget any time soon.
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Memo to President Obama: Climate Change Policy RecommendationMemo to President Obama: Climate Change Policy Recommendations

December 9, 2009

young people with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson
As a final assignment for a climate course that I am in, I had the opportunity to write a memo to President Obama outlining what his climate goal should be and what policies/strategies he would use to reach those goals.

Below is the full text. I think it does a good job of explaining where we are at with the current COP15 negotiations and where we are headed with a climate bill.

To: President Barack Obama
From: Mr. Jeremy Blanchard
Date: 7 Dec 2009
Subject: Climate Change Policy Recommendations

As a young person in the United States, I feel an obligation to ensure a healthy, prosperous future for my children and for all future generations. Because of this, I have spent the last year organizing campuses and communities to take action on the largest challenge that our species has ever faced: global climate change. To avoid catastrophic climate change, the United States must take the lead in reducing greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously revitalizing our economy with clean, safe energy. To achieve this goal, the country must pass ambitious climate legislation and negotiate a strong international climate treaty. Mr. President, you must lead the way to ensure that these goals are met. The strategic recommendations outlined here are meant to be ambitious yet still politically realistic.

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