copenhagen journal

Ritt Rjerregaard, Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, speaks at the opening ceremony of the UN Climate Change Conference 2009 (COP15) in Denmark on December 7.

Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Denmark

Professor, students blog from Copenhagen talks

J. Timmons Roberts, director of the Center for Environmental Studies, and four students are attending the UN’s COP15 climate conference in Denmark and blogging about it for Today at Brown.

12.6.09  Overview  ||  12.10.09  The world is waiting for action  ||  12.12.09  A quest for “climate justice”  || 12.13.09  Greening universities and selling ‘Bright Green’  ||  12.14.09 Students: Climate compromise is tricky  || 12.15.09  Time is running out  ||  12.17.09  What is the national interest?  ||  12.20.09  In the end, a realist’s deal

By Richard C. Lewis  |  December 6, 2009  |  Email to a friend

A Brown environmental social scientist is witnessing history being made at the United Nations-sponsored COP15 climate change summit in Denmark this week. Representatives of 192 nations have been gathering in Copenhagen beginning Monday, December 7, to address strategies to combat climate change, in particular how to convince developing countries to limit greenhouse gas emissions and how to compensate poorer countries for global warming-induced damages.

J. Timmons Roberts, professor of sociology and the new director for the Center for Environmental Studies, an observer at the climate negotiations, is blogging from the proceedings for Today at Brown. David Ciplet, a sociology graduate student, also will be attending to study social movements.

Roberts: Twelve long years without a climate treaty.: Roberts: Twelve long years without a climate treaty. Roberts gave a presentation to officials of the U.S. Agency for International Development on December 14 about a comprehensive system, called AidData, he helped develop to track governmental funding worldwide and to assess the effectiveness of that aid. Such a tracking system is critical, Roberts said, so climate leaders can agree on a climate finance package – a fund, in essence – that will be used to assist developing countries to absorb the impact of global warming and use more clean energy sources.

“A lot of what I’ve been arguing is that we just need to pay poor countries – we need money to flow to help them avoid getting on a high-carbon, high-coal, high-oil development pathway,” Roberts said days before he departed for the talks.

The road to Copenhagen began in 1992, when nations meeting in Rio de Janeiro adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as the basis for a world response to global warming. That pact set up a system under which nations would share information on human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases that contribute to climate change.

Five years later, 37 industrialized nations and the European Union agreed to a set of emission targets in a pact known as the Kyoto Protocol. But the reductions details in the Kyoto accord have not been met. That fact, along with greater scientific certainty that human actions are chiefly responsible for global warming and the availability of more advanced forecasts of the dangers posed by climate change, prompted climate efforts to push for new talks.

Despite mounting evidence, negotiations have been bedeviled by numerous roadblocks, among them climate aid. Roberts has written extensively on the subject; his most recent paper, published last month by the International Institute for Environment, highlights four simple lessons to help negotiators reach a deal. Such aid, he said, must be “adequate and predictable funding raised in some new way. It can’t be seen just as charity.” It also can’t replace other forms of assistance for healthcare, clean water, and other essential services upon which developing nations depend, he added.

While Timmons believes the negotiations will yield progress, one question remaining is how American lawmakers will greet any tentative accords. The U.S. Congress has yet to ratify an agreement that calls for specific reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. “The big problem is the United States, and in particular the U.S. Senate,” Roberts said. “It's been 12 long years (without a climate-change treaty ratified by Congress). Everyone else is saying, ‘Why should we do anything when the U.S. has done nothing?’ ”

Students talk sustainability in Copenhagen

PhD student Aron Buffen, shown on an icebreaker off the Antarctic, is attending the student event in Copenhagen.: PhD student Aron Buffen, shown on an icebreaker off the Antarctic, is attending the student event in Copenhagen. Brown students are going to Copenhagen, too. Although they won’t be directly involved in the climate talks, they’ll be contributing in an important way.

The students – graduate student Aron Buffen, Katherine Dagon ’10, and Matthew Severson ’11 – will represent Brown at a conference on how universities worldwide can limit greenhouse-gas emissions and encourage sustainable practices. At the gathering, organized by the University of Copenhagen and Yale University, teams from participating institutions will discuss campus initiatives. The Brown students’ trip is sponsored by the Office of the President.

“I think the conference wants to get a conversation going between students at different universities, with the hope that they can learn from each other,” said Dagon, who works with physics professor Brad Marston on climate modeling, such as the formation of jets in planetary atmospheres.

Katherine Dagon ’10: Starting the conversation: Katherine Dagon ’10: Starting the conversation The Brown group will focus on President Ruth J. Simmons’s call in January 2008 for the University to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 42 percent below 2007 levels by the year 2020. In a report released this fall, the University announced it has reduced its carbon footprint by nearly 19 percent, well above the target 8 percent. That achievement, combined with other environmentally friendly efforts on campus, helped Brown score an A- in this year’s College Sustainability Report Card, an independent evaluation carried out by the Sustainable Endowments Institute.

The Brown guests also will explain efforts by student groups such as EmPOWER to promote sustainability on campus, as well as the work of individual departments, such as Facilities Management.

Buffen, a first-year graduate student in geological sciences who works with Assistant Professor Meredith Hastings, and Dagon said they’re honored to represent Brown at the sustainability meeting. They’re also excited to be in Copenhagen as world leaders address climate change. “No matter what the outcome of the talks, this will be an incredibly valuable learning experience,” Dagon said.