November 28, 2010

Cornell Delegates Join the Ranks At U.N. Climate Conference in Cancun

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A delegation of Cornell researchers will join the fight against climate change Monday in the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico.

About 24 faculty members, staff and students will travel to the 16th Conference of Parties — which begins Monday and ends Dec. 10 —  where they will lead discussions, present research and attend workshops to address problems associated with Global Climate Change.

“The Cornell Center for Sustainable Future — the Atkinson Center — has been working on coordinating the delegation,” Prof. Sean Sweeney, director of Cornell’s Global Labor Institute, said.

Eight undergraduates and ten graduate students are delegates representing Cornell.

Three Cornell professors — Prof. Antonio Bento, applied economics and management, Prof. Johannes Lehmann, soil sciences, and Sweeney —  will give formal presentations to the COP 16 on issues ranging from cap-and-trade offsets, sustainable agriculture and organized labor.

The conference succeeds last year’s turmoil in Copenhagen, where President Barack Obama’s hopes of a new climate change policy met stiff Chinese opposition.

“It was such a failure last time,” Sweeney said, referencing the lack of a legally-binding agreement to forestall global warming.

“Today, expectations are low … the most important thing for Cancun is to keep the process going so there’ll be a new agreement in place for next year’s conference in Johannesburg,” he said.

At the COP 16, Bento will present a theoretical and computational model of a cap-and-trade model in the United States. In a cap-and-trade program, the government sets pollution caps and firms may purchase and trade carbon credits.

“A cap-and-trade bill cannot get through this current Congress,” Sweeney added.

One member of Bento’s team, Ben Leard grad, described their research work on carbon offsets — which allow institutions to purchase greenhouse gas reductions to offset emissions.

“What we’re looking at is that how big the carbon offset supply will be … it’ll include agricultural [industries] and forestry,” Leard said.

He explained the two main questions of their study: “If you include or don’t include offsets, how much does it save in terms of having a cap-and-trade program in the United States?” and “What would be the emissions consequences of the offsets?”

Another part of the Cornell delegation, led by Sweeney, will give a presentation on labor unions’ role in fighting climate change.

“The labor unions are divided politically. There are those who see climate protection as a threat — the carbon-intensive industry,” he said.

About 200 labor organizations will attend the COP 16 and they will also have their own conference, according to Sweeney.

“We will be holding an Agricultural Day booth. We’ll be presenting our research where people can walk around,” Sweeney said. “We’ll be passing around brochures on Cornell’s research on climate change.”

The third research group will offer information “on how to avoid carbon dioxide losses from soils that would contribute to global warming, and how to increase organic carbon in soils that will be a sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide,” Lehmann said in an e-mail.

Lehmann, who will present in two “side events” meant to inform the delegates, expressed hope that his scientific research would affect the diplomatic bargaining.

“The presentations by scientists are attended by negotiators that will hopefully be better informed through the material. Often, negotiators are directly interacting with presenters to deepen their knowledge,” Lehmann said.

Virtually every member state of the U.N. will send formal delegations to the conference but there is a little hope for a breakthrough this year.

“Many people have lost confidence, especially given recent changes in the U.S. Congress. The U.S. still makes up 23 percent of the [global] emissions yet 5 percent of the population,” Sweeney said.

“If the U.S. cannot commit to reducing emissions, how they can hold anybody else to it … That is the main problem in negotiations.”

Original Author: Max Schindler