Copenhagen climate change conference


The following editorial was published on December 8th by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages:

‘Fourteen days to seal history’s judgment on this generation’

Well, that’s perhaps putting on a little too much pressure on this one meeting, but it’s clearly going to be very important what the leaders of the world agree on in Copenhagen. The talking and negotiating, and our shared responsibility to deal with this problem, won’t stop after this meeting however.  

Some excerpts, my emphasis in bold:

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.


The science is complex but the (basic) facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.


At the deal’s heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world’s biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.


The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.


The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

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6 Responses to “Copenhagen climate change conference”

  1. Heiko Gerhauser Says:

    What do you think of Jesse Jenkins take?

    More specifically this article:


  2. Bart Says:


    I didn’t read the whole article to be honest, but a sole focus on total costs doesn’t strike me as the most useful. The total costs of mitigation are tremendously more uncertain than the ‘safely allowed’ amount of emissions, and those costs are likely to change as time goes by.

    A better number to focus is is one trillion ton of carbon. That is the total cumulative amount of carbon we can emit which causes a peak warming of 2 degrees C above pre industrial (2 sigma uncertainty range 1.3 – 3.9). The remainder half trillion ton is the ‘new’ limited resource we have to share amongst the world.

    That said, costs are a big part of the problem, so they surely have to be discussed. Just not as a sole metric.

  3. Jurrie Says:

    Hi Bart,

    I’m still looking for arguments that are the basis of what the letter says:
    ” In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame “.

    I’m searching and searching and reading, but I still haven’t found anything more than explanations like this:

    “The IPCC report shows that natural cycles of sun spot activity and related temperature variability are not significant enough to have caused the recent spike in global warming. Recent rapid GHG and global average temperature increases, the IPCC notes, do not correlate with increases in
    natural phenomena such as organic methane, volcanic venting or solar activity (e.g., the 11-year sunspot cycles). On the contrary, human activities such as increasing fossil fuel use, have generated over 130 times the amount of CO2 emitted by volcanoes and solar flares. Rapid
    increases in global methane and nitrous oxide, similarly, are mostly due to agriculture and deforestation.” (diNorcia, Global Warming is Man Made:2008:p3) –>

    But how on earth do all you smart guys draw the conclusion that it’s warming because of the rise of CO2? Because you have a model that predicts that it’s not the sun or vulcanoes?? Just because avg temp and CO2 levels they rise together can not reasonably be the argument that one causes the other??? At best you have a prediction what are not the causes.

    Please help me out.

  4. Heiko Gerhauser Says:

    Hi Bart,

    ok, I wanted you to comment on these two key paragraphs:

    The important question in international climate negotiations should not be which countries are promising to reduce their emissions by which level. As similar commitments under the Kyoto Protocol reveal, these emissions pledges can easily become empty promises, and creative accounting offers plenty of ways to “comply” with these targets while avoiding the real task of fundamentally transforming the way the world makes and uses energy.

    The only truly important metric is the impact Copenhagen has on the shared sums the global community will invest to build a new clean energy economy, how and where the funds are allocated, and where the investment will come from.


    I was thinking of asking Heleen a question on this, something like:

    “What is being done at Copenhagen to allay fears that the summit is only about giving vague promises that mean nothing by giving concrete commitments to invest into clean energy development at a scale of several hundred billion Dollars on top of BAU?”

    I am rather biased about this, as I am a great fan of spending lots of money on research and development; I am a researcher in an energy research institute, so how could I be against giving ourselves a bigger budget ;-)

  5. Bart Says:


    You ask “But how on earth do all you smart guys draw the conclusion that it’s warming because of the rise of CO2?” The basic physics that more CO2 must lead to a warmer planet was figured out by some smart guys 150 years ago. See Spencer Weart’s book, or any textbook on radiative physics or climate for that matter.

    This post specifically deals with the basics of the physical problem; probably the single best place to start. I linked to it in my ‘consensus’ post:

    A collection of good links and pointers is here:

    The IPCC FAQ may answer specific questions:

    Click to access ar4-wg1-faqs.pdf

    IPCC technical summary for more detail:

    Click to access ar4-wg1-ts.pdf

  6. Bart Says:


    I agree with the potential emptyness of mere emissions reduction pledges. However, as I stated before, replacing that by a pledge to spend a certain amount of euros/dollars isn’t going to be the solution I think. It’s about how much the total emissions go down, not about how much money is spent in doing so.

    My suggested amendment would thus be:

    “The only truly important metric is the impact Copenhagen has on the shared sums of GHG the global community will dump into the atmosphere, how and where reductions in that sum are allocated, and where the investment will come from.”

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