Friday, May 8, 2009

UN Conference in Copenhagen

After a brief luncheon, the conference moved into a third plenary session, chaired by Alexander Nicoll, the IISS Director of Editorial. This session, titled: “The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen: Should we reassess how ‘security’ is defined for a warming world? Can a UN agreement in Copenhagen guarantee long-term climate security?” Panelists included: Ambassador Steffen Smidt, the Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Representative for Climate Change Issues; Ambassador Paula Dobriansky, the former Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs throughout the Bush Administration; and James Lee, a Professor in the School of International Service at American University.

Ambassador Smidt began the panel by saying that “an ambitious global climate deal” at December’s summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a top priority for the Danish Government. He stated that climate change is more than just an environmental issue to be addressed at UNFCCC conferences. Instead, it must be addressed comprehensively throughout the government. He laid out a series of areas in foreign policy that should be addressed, including in multilateral forums, development financing, energy security, and international investment policy.

Ambassador Dobriansky focused on the necessity of negotiating a truly global emissions-reduction treaty that is both environmentally effective and comprehensive. It must not undermine the ability of poor countries to develop, but it cannot simply allow large developing nations to continue their emissions with no limits. Unlike Kyoto, any treaty must include real commitments from developing nations that are “Measurable, reportable, and verifiable.” Beyond the environmental effectiveness of a treaty, a successful Copenhagen summit will include new efforts to develop clean technology, will protect against deforestation, and will help to foster good government policies. Finally, Ambassador Dobriansky concluded that the world will not need a new global institution to protect the environment, as the UN process – though in need of reform – will prove sufficient to handle the task.

As the last presenter of the day, Professor James Lee gave a thought-provoking presentation on the long-term security risks of climate change, based on a new book, entitled Climate Change and Armed Conflict: Hot and Cold Wars. Using a map of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s projections overlaid with a map of the world’s largest security risks, he made a persuasive case that – unless global warming is successfully mitigated – the world faces a range of new and potentially very dangerous security threats. Some specific scenarios that he mentioned included an end to ice caps and glaciers, the creation of an integrated ‘Great World Desert’ that stretches 600 miles from the Kalahari in Namibia to the Gobi in Mongolia, the specter of rising sea levels that could swamp existing islands and low-lying deltas, and the possibility of countries aggressively trying to change local and international weather patterns through cloud seeding or other geoengineering processes. Lee’s presentation underscored the long-term necessity of actively addressing climate change before these dire forecasts come to pass.

Overall, the questions surrounded how to achieve a successful result in Copenhagen. Several questioners asked how to involve China; the consensus was that it must be done in every way possible, including regional, multilateral, and bilateral agreements. All panelists agreed that the issue of how to enforce any agreements would be an important part of an agreement. One questioner asked why nations should continue to negotiate in the UNFCCC, when the Major Economies Forum, involving the 17 largest global emitters (85% of emissions), is moving towards crafting its own agreement. Dobriansky answered that it was most important to build capacity and governance through the UN process. All panelists agreed that, in the short-term, the UN process is sufficient, and there is no need for a new international environmental enforcement body. This panel provided important detail in how the international community could move towards a comprehensive treaty at December’s Copenhagen Conference, and it also talked about the dangers if we fail to act.

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