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Copenhagen Off Target

December 13, 2009
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Copenhagen is boring and dumb.

There, I said it.

I don’t mean the city (LOVE the city); I mean the climate talks.

The problem with Copenhagen is not just that these countries will not agree on anything; it’s that even if they did, it wouldn’t make any difference.

If you have been paying any attention to Copenhagen, you’ve heard about targets. For example, should we try to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by mid-century, or 2? Is the appropriate target for stabilized atmospheric concentrations of CO2 450 parts per million (ppm), or 350? Or some other number?

The obsession with these targets is damaging.
The Breakthrough Blog recently called them “insidious abstractions.”

The haggling at Copenhagen is a bit like me arguing with my darts partner about which half of the bull’s eye we should hit. Even if we agree, the chances of either one of us hitting the target are pretty small. And in this case just throwing a dart will take an act of Congress.

We do not know enough about how to control the world’s energy system to have a discussion about the merits of 1.5 degrees vs 2 degrees. An earnest and unanimous agreement on a target for global average temperature, would not bring us any closer to implementing the necessary policies for achieving that.

Recent writing about Copenhagen on the Breakthrough Blog is spot on. The only way to make progress on climate change is to “transform the way the world makes and uses energy.” Debate over targets rarely includes substantive dialog on this problem, and this is why it is such a distraction.

In a particularly cogent post last week, Breakthrough explores the irony of so many devoted people participating in such a meaningless exercise, essentially clinging to the distraction:

With all hopes of a treaty abandoned months ago, diplomats and greens are in a state of serious cognitive dissonance, attempting to resolve the seriousness of the problem with the total lack of a meaningful government response. They do so, not by asking hard questions about the viability of the Kyoto framework, but rather by creating a simulacrum of action to substitute for any meaningful action to reduce emissions or adapt to a warmer world.
In this, Copenhagen represents the first truly postmodern global event in human history. Other generations had Versailles, Yalta, Bretton-Woods — agreements that re-organized nation states and shaped the modern world. We, by contrast, have Copenhagen, which has no power to do anything. In reality, Copenhagen is no more effectual than the made for media confabs like Davos. But the United Nations, multinational green groups, and sympathetic reporters have succeeded in creating the impression of action where there is, in fact, none at all.

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