Copenhagen May Be Cold and Gray, But There’s Still Cause for Optimism

The first day of the UN climate summit dawned cold and gray, just like all of the past few days since I arrived in Copenhagen. I have yet to see the sun since getting to Denmark. But that certainly is not a reflection of the mood inside the talks.

In a press conference last night, the UN’s top climate change official, Yvo de Boer, expressed his confidence that the meeting could result in an ambitious climate change deal. “Never in 17 years of climate negotiations have so many different nations made so many firm pledges together,” he said.

There was certainly some truth to his words, as South Africa was announcing their own ambitious emissions targets practically at the very same time. The country has pledged to reduce its emissions to 34% below business as usual over the next 10 years, peaking at 42% by 2025. This makes South Africa “one of the stars of the negotiations,” according to my colleagues here at Greenpeace.

A word on “business as usual”: Developing countries are not expected to set emissions targets in the same sense as developed countries, because developing countries by and large have little emissions to speak of compared to the wealthier nations of the world. Rather, they’re expected to lower their emissions growth based on so-called “business as usual” projections, meaning the levels they would reach in the future based on their current pace of industrialization. Developed countries, meanwhile, are expected to actually set emissions targets and lower their already considerable amount of emissions.

Of course, these commitments by the developing world are entirely contingent on developed nations stepping up and doing their part, not only to slash their own emissions levels but to provide up to $140 billion a year to help the developing world deal with the impacts of climate change and stop deforestation.

I’m here on the ground and will continue to report how the negotiations shake out. We’re staying hopeful out here, but that doesn’t mean we’re not staying vigilant. There will be many, many actions, rallies, and other events to remind world leaders of their moral obligations to deal with the climate crisis, and I’ll be reporting on those too. Stay tuned!

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