February 9, 2010

Copenhagen: Sustainable or Superficial?

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While Cornell students were overdosing on caffeine and burying themselves in the libraries during study week, the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference occurred. From Dec. 7-18, 2009, 194 nations met to attempt to construct an environmental agreement. Eventually, the non-legally binding Copenhagen Accord was established, which commited all participants to limiting the global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the developed and developing world, and funding $100 billion a year toward helping developing countries reach these goals by 2020, according to CNN.

Each country also agreed to submit their individual or joint economy-wide emissions targets for 2020 by Jan. 30. On Jan. 28, the U.S. officially submitted its goals to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. President Barack Obama’s commitment stated that the United States will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 4 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. While formal documents have been prepared, not much is established about the funding promised at Copenhagen. Though 55 countries indicated their specific targets (22 of those countries are considered developing nations), more than 100 have yet to express their goals. With so many countries not invested officially, it remains to be seen what will actually happen with climate change.

At Cornell, the Climate Action Plan hopes to reduce Cornell’s effective greenhouse gas emissions from 319,000 metric tons (CO2 equivalent emissions) to net zero level by 2050. Cornell plans to meet this goal through carbon off-setting, transporation, fuel mix and renewable energy resources, energy conservation and green development. The Cor­nell Climate Ac­tion Plan can be found at sustainable­campus.cornell.edu.

Many students on campus were concerned about the Copenhagen Conference’s outcome. “Overall, I would say that the Copenhagen conference was unsuccessful,” former Sustainability Hub president, Christina Copeland said. “What was really needed was some sort of legally binding international deal regarding greenhouse gas emissions. The Copenhagen Accord may be a bit of a step forward, but it is completely inadequate to really do anything to curb emissions. There is nothing legally binding about it, and countries only ‘took note’ of it [instead of adopting it].”

Prof. Gregory Poe, applied economics and managament, believes that though promoting awareness about climate change is an important component of climate legislation, more government action is needed at this time. He added that “reaching President Obama’s goals depends on legislation. Without appropriate legislation, nothing will happen.” Poe believes utilizing carbon offsets and taxing carbon emissions could assist in accomplishing these ambitions.

Copeland supports Cornell’s Sustainable Campus plans and spent fall semester working in Cornell’s Office of Environmental Compliance and Sustainability. “It’s clear that environmental issues are becoming more and more important as time goes on, and I’m very proud of Cornell for staying on the cutting-edge of research and action towards sustainability.”

Like Copeland, Poe supports Cornell’s efforts. “The Climate Action Plan is good in some ways, but is too optimistic. However, it does promote positive and creative thinking, and can create positive action.”

Original Author: Katerina Athanasiou