#145 – James Nelson: Reflections on the Copenhagen Climate Summit

Written by admin on January 6th, 2010

UPDATE January 8, 2010, by James Nelson: On December 17th, the day I left Copenhagen, a 22 minute film was debuted concerning wide scale revegetation in developing countries. They talk about trees but they primarily use shrubs and deep rooted grasses. The film is entitled “Hope in a Changing Climate“. The case studies are from China, Rwanda and Ethiopia. The narrator in some places coincidentally used almost word for word my talk the prior week in Copenhagen. I talked with people from Ethiopia and other parts of Africa. They were very supportive. The film link is here.

In the coming days, I will redo my trip report referencing this film. I am not exaggerating to say these concepts “rehabilitating degraded land” have been used with dramatic results here in Minnesota and other parts of the world and are very cost effective (utilizing surplus labor) for dealing with climate change. I received a great deal of encouragement in Copenhagen.

Posted by Jim Nelson, Jan 3, 2010: I spent 16 days in and around Copenhagen and observed and participated in the Climate Summit. Here is my summary report.

Modest but meaningful progress was made at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Copenhagen. It was exciting to participate in a small way in one of the most momentous and far-reaching issues of our time. I tried to contribute using my experience in business, civic organizations and horticultural activities. Most of all I tried to carefully listen learn and discern a response to these challenges.

The conference fell short of its goal of producing a world-wide binding treaty to limit green house gases but it did produce emission pledges by all major developed countries including for the first time the United States and China. Key elements of the Copenhagen Accord include overarching goals, fresh commitments of funding and new incentives to obtain the greatest impact on reducing greenhouse gases. New mechanisms for standard measurement and verification were strongly debated and only loosely agreed among major countries fearful of giving up sovereignty.

The paramount goal is to limit temperature increases of the earth’s surface by 2 degrees Celsius. This agreement calls for specific commitments from individual countries. Furthermore, there must be standard reporting and independent verification of each countries activity. Funding was a very contentious issue. In the end $30 billion was approved for the first 3 years and a goal was established to mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020.

At Klimaforum 09, the People’s Climate Summit, civil society groups conducted a conference in parallel with the government deliberations. Here diverse groups from around the world manifested the unfolding climate change drama with compelling exhibits, publications and seminars. It was the UN Association of Denmark, part of the World Federalist Movement that provided the human face for the somber climate models and contentious policy debates.

Over several years, the Danish group has worked with UN groups from Brazil, India, Tanzania, Finland etc to assure that the voices of marginalized people were heard. They produced compelling panel discussions on the personal impacts of climate change. These long term changes extend far beyond normal patterns in variability in temperatures, frequency and intensity of rainfall. We learned these changes can be dangerous especially to poor nations or regions were food production is impacted, creating instability and ultimately triggering a migration of “climate refugees”.

At this conference it was my opportunity to propose a piece of the climate jigsaw solution puzzle. My grassroots solution to climate change focused on the unique properties of deep rooted native plants, to filter contaminants in water, prevent erosion, to counter the tendency to flood, to provide homes for wildlife and pollinators and especially the capability to sequester carbon deep in the soil. My presentation also focused on grassroots organizations that actively promote the regeneration of native plants and cultivate the future generations of people to value and expand that tradition. Many in the audience felt that my contribution was very applicable to developing countries with degraded landscape and underutilized workers.

Many leaders believe that we are heading for a serious climate issue unless we align economic activities with natural processes. If the political leaders were deciding “what” we must do to preclude severe climate problems, it was business leaders that illustrated “how” we are going to going to dramatically improve efficiency in a carbon constrained world. Midway through the conference, during a pause in the negotiations, the business community hosted “Bright Green” where 170 leading clean-tech companies showcased innovative technologies: windmills, smart electric grids, biocatalysts for new fuels and many innovative carbon sparing technologies. Just as the revolution in information technologies fueled the growth of industry and jobs in the current generation, the transformation to a less intensive/energy economy could propel growth for the next generation.

Climate change has strong but differential effect on people within and between countries and regions and between this generation and future generations. We need to continue to strongly advocate for strong legally binding climate treaties. We need to insist that agreements contain effective international organizations capable of orchestrating global and enforcing solutions. A strong legal framework will give businesses the regulatory certainty to make investments in new jobs and technologies to make the needed improvements.

We need to renew our commitments to Citizens for Global Solutions and other vital civic organizations to assure that the voices of those least capable of coping with climate change can be heard and answered.

He can be reached at kdjnelsonATgmail.com