Wednesday, December 16, our last day in the Bella Center due to NGO restrictions, was an intense day. In the first meeting, we witnessed the resignation of COP15 President Connie Hedegaard and several Heads of State statements, as well as the concern from developing countries regarding the imposition of the Danish text.
I left the plenary to hear U.S. Senator John Kerry discuss the critical role of a global deal in advancing domestic legislation. Kerry is the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and lead author of the Senate’s climate bill.
As I was attempting to enter the meeting, I ran into Brice Lalonde, Kerry’s first cousin and French ambassador in charge of international climate change negotiations since 2007. I had the luck of finding a seat in the front row!
Overall, Kerry acted confident that the U.S. will pass comprehensive climate legislation in early spring 2010 and that a binding international legal agreement could be possible as of summer 2010 if COP16 is moved up. He rallied the crowd by stating that “[i]f Dick Cheney can argue that even a 1% chance of a terrorist attack is 100% justification for preemptive action—then surely, when scientists tell us that climate change is nearly a 100% certainty, we ought to be able to stand together, all of us, and join in an all out effort to combat a mortal threat to the life of this planet.”
Effectively, climate change could lead to issues of war, and for many, a question of life and death. We have an obligation to save lives. Despite this impending global problem, Americans have been frustratingly reluctant to address real future dangers because of present economic realities. The irony of this mentality is the extraordinary amount of spending we have incurred for the current wars and the relative corresponding small percentage of finance needed to make legitimate progress to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
There is a synergy between what happens in Copenhagen and U.S. domestic legislation, as evidenced from the fact that even previous international climate treaty naysayers such as Senator Robert Byrd recently stated that “[t]o deny the mounting science of climate change is to stick our heads in the sand and say ’deal me out.’ West Virginia would be much smarter to stay at the table.” Kerry warned, however, that if Congress will not legislate, the EPA will regulate. Nonetheless, I am hopeful that the Senate will have the courage to step up to our shared responsibility.
One observation that I have had from these negotiations is the importance of trust. We need to trust science and each other. Unfortunately, the lack of trust has really pushed the limits of what we can achieve.