Text size
Print Share Email

Cooling Expectations for Copenhagen

Nov 16, 2009
By Sean Piazza

COP15As the numbers on the Copenhagen Countdown clock continue to shrink, so too do expectations for a legally binding agreement among the 192 nations attending December’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15). Recent polls show wavering support among the American people for drastic action on climate change, implying that a collective rain check may be required to avoid another Kyoto-style failure.

In a recent collaboration with Scientific American titled Powering a Green Planet, FLYP presented two scientists’ plan, which asserts that the resources and technology are where they need to be to make the switch to carbon-free renewable energy sources, but that the political challenges are by far the biggest hurdles left to overcome.

A new Financial Times/Harris Poll suggest that it just may not be the time for that kind of bold agreement, at least not in the United States. When compared to the five European nations polled, a larger proportion of Americans still believe that climate change is not a threat at all—11 percent, versus 8 and 5 percent in Great Britain and Germany, respectively. Add to that a Pew poll in October which found that only around a third of Americans view climate change as a very serious problem—down almost 10 percent from April 2008—and the prospect of President Barack Obama convincing Congress to adopt any binding agreement looks bleak.

But time for action is undoubtedly running out. Connie Hedegaard, president of COP15, believes that if we don’t deliver in Copenhagen we may not ever be able to deliver on the promise to reduce global carbon emissions.


Aside from the “ifs”, the “hows” are another problem: Compared to the five other nations in the Harris Poll, only 9 percent of Americans think that the government should play a key role in addressing climate change. The next lowest score is from France, which still saw twice the number of respondents—18 percent—supporting the government’s role in the issue.

UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon addresses the UN Climate Change Summit in September. Photo by AFP Photo/Don Emmert/Newscom

The economy is partly to blame. In fact, the numbers say that more Americans polled seek out energy-efficient products only if it saves them money, compared to a smaller number who would pay more for goods with a low carbon footprint.

The prospect for 2010, however, appears to be more likely for the U.S. to take action, barring further economic contraction. With Obama’s first visit to China currently underway (less than a month from the conference in Copenhagen), the Guardian believes it will take more time to bring the U.S. and China to the table. They suggest putting off a global agreement until a scheduled 2010 climate meeting in Mexico.

Kyoto’s failure is widely pinned to the failure of the U.S., the world’s biggest producer of carbon emissions, to ratify the treaty. With popular opinion in the country apparently lukewarm about taking action on climate change, it looks like the world may still be some years away from a binding treaty that would give rise to the proper renewable energy infrastructure that the world so desperately needs.

login or register to post a comment

Get the latest look at the people, ideas and events that are shaping America. Sign up for the FREE FLYP newsletter.