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COP15 is underway

Tom Pakenham (Esc Hero #23) is writing updates on Copenhagen here. It just struck me that he has an incredibly interesting job.

“The UN conference began in earnest today – for the main news stories, the BBC coverage is pretty comprehensive. We divided our time between a morning seminar at the University of Copenhagen and looking at some examples of low carbon transport in the city.

A few interesting facts came out of the morning’s talks, including:

1) 70-80% of all greenhouse gases are produced by just 15 countries. This causes some to ask why we don’t simply target all efforts at reducing the emissions of those 15? One reason is technical – the UN process began as a global, all-nation initiative and is now therefore tied into remaining as such. The second reason is more interesting – if restrictions were imposed on those 15 countries alone, the remaining countries would gain a huge competitive advantage and simply step into the shoes of the 15, bringing us back to square 1. So there you have it – we’re all in this together, no matter how difficult that makes things.

2) The chief negotiator for New Zealand confirmed what most of us strongly suspect – that nothing binding will come out of COP15. Instead, we will have a “decision text” setting out a broad political accord. This text is likely to call for early action in a couple of areas (which will almost certainly include reduction of methane emissions), to be supported by a small financial package as soon as possible after the conference has finished. Greenhouse gas reduction targets will come in at a later date…

3) Did you know that when sea levels rise, the rise is not evenly distributed around the world? Although average global sea level rise is 3-4mm per year, it is much higher in some places and lower in others. I always just thought that the water would flow to find an equal level everywhere, but apparently not! Sea level rise in the UK is less dramatic than in some parts of the world, most notably the coastlines of South-East Asia.

4) There are 13 1/2 billion hectares of land on the planet. 4 1/2 billion hectares are used for agriculture. Given that population is set to grow to 9 billion by 2050, a quick calculation in my head puts future agricultural land use at just under 7 billion hectares; more than half of all land. So not only will we have more people to find space for, but there will be less space available because we’ll be using it to feed all the extra people. Sounds to me like some clever people have to start coming up with some solutions. We’re on the edge of a construction renaissance, so why not have one in farming at the same time?

5) Talking of farming, one phrase I did find interesting was “farmers connect the sun to the earth.” Our growing interest in the sun will not just manifest itself in the form of solar panels, but also in a return to our connection with the land and a greater emphasis on understanding photosynthesis.

6) Ever heard of something called “MAD”? A play on the Cold War idea, it stands for “Mutually Assured Decarbonisation” and is a theme being explored by many at COP15. The idea is that just as the USSR and USA put themselves in a position where both would be wiped out by a nuclear war, the new form of MAD will allow countries to decarbonise without losing their competitive advantage on the world market. They won’t lose this advantage because the decarbonisation of their competitors will also be assured. Neat.”