President Obama chose his words well in describing the final agreement made at Copenhagen. "Today we've made a meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough here in Copenhagen. For the first time in history all major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action to confront the threat of climate change."
This is undoubtedly true, if only because the United States was at last a party to the agreement. It means all the major developed nations now are on record committing themselves to not simply acknowledging the Climate Crisis but to addressing it, as individual countries and as international partners.
Further, the developed countries have acknowledged responsibility for both causing the problem and aiding the most vulnerable nations in dealing with the effects:
"We agreed to join an international effort to provide financing to help developing countries, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, adapt to climate change. And we reaffirmed the necessity of listing our national actions and commitments in a transparent way."
But he also recognized that the agreement is inadequate--that it is a first step, in direction and in the necessity of working together:
" Taken together these actions will help us begin to meet our responsibilities to leave our children and our grandchildren a cleaner and safer planet. Now, this progress did not come easily, and we know that this progress alone is not enough. Going forward, we're going to have to build on the momentum that we've established here in Copenhagen to ensure that international action to significantly reduce emissions is sustained and sufficient over time. We've come a long way, but we have much further to go.
To continue moving forward we must draw on the effort that allowed us to succeed here today -- engagement among nations that represent a baseline of mutual interest and mutual respect. Climate change threatens us all; therefore, we must bridge old divides and build new partnerships to meet this great challenge of our time. That's what we've begun to do here today."
The greatest disappointment was in solid commitments to reduce carbon emissions. The agreement specifies a goal of doing what is necessary to keep the temperature from rising more than 2 degrees C. This is more than the goal some developing nations wanted (1.5C) or many scientists, but it is a lot better than what is likely to happen without efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.
President Obama often stresses the positive, which is alternative energy: not only the best way to limit greenhouse gases (by creating more of our energy with technologies that don't pollute with these gases) but as an economic boon, as what America needs to re-energize its economy and lead the world economically again. Once again, let's remember that this is a commitment by the American President that reverses eight years of resistance.
So in his statement, President Obama talked about his administration's efforts to jump-start alternative energy innovations and use, ending:
"And around the world, energy is an issue that demands our leadership. The time has come for us to get off the sidelines and to shape the future that we seek. That's why I came to Copenhagen today, and that's why I'm committed to working in common effort with countries from around the globe. That's also why I believe what we have achieved in Copenhagen will not be the end but rather the beginning, the beginning of a new era of international action."
The details of the agreement have yet to be analyzed. Some are speaking of it as a betrayal of the United Nations. Yet it is worth remembering how compromised and less-than-ideal the UN itself has been, from its inception. That's not to endorse more authority for--perish the thought-- the World Bank, but to remind us all of the international political context.
Will this be enough, soon enough? Such an effort should have begun twenty years ago, or even ten years ago. But it didn't. This much has begun now. This is where we are. We start from here. We have no other choice.
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