The main objective for the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen that ended yesterday was to update the convention on the subject; that document had been signed by most of the world's countries. The convention is the binding legal tool as far as international law is concerned.
This update was meant to include a string of commitments to reduce greenhouse gases according to the principle of shared but differing responsibilities - this distributes the burden in a manner that makes rich countries responsible for most of the reduction and funding in poorer countries.
In the event, a group of countries, led by the United States, came up in Copenhagen with a path that runs parallel to that of the United Nations. They did it by drawing up a document that purports to be an action plan. But the degree to which it binds its cosignatories remains unclear.
Their program aims to make sure that the Earth's average temperature does not rise by more than two degrees Celsius by 2050. The means would be to meet individual emission-reduction levels, predetermined by each of the program's member states.
This is to be pursued in parallel with massive funding for poorer countries. There is also a vague reference to creating a mechanism to make sure the required actions are undertaken.
This agreement represents progress because for the first time a varied group of countries is willing to commit to set reduction levels. Another crucial but underappreciated achievement is the funding pledge for anti-deforestation.
But the paper that came out of the Copenhagen conference is just a paper, which could lose all meaning with the first disagreement on implementation. The goals are not satisfactory, to say the least, and the paper does not enjoy very broad international support.
Maybe the time has come to seriously consider greater investment in programs that do not require UN discussions that cannot be agreed on by everyone. Such programs need to be based on financial and technological incentives to significantly reduce emission levels of greenhouse gases.
"The problem of climate change will be solved by engineers and scientists, not bureaucrats," the New York Times' Thomas Friedman recently said about this approach in an interview with Israeli magazine Odisea.
"The problem [can be solved] by inventors and innovators, not regulators. We need to encourage green solutions," he added. "Out of a thousand promising solutions, two will be the Google and the Microsoft of cleantech." But UN discussions introduce a human element. For example, when UN climate change secretary Yvo de Boer was asked yesterday where Danish Climate and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard had gone, he said: "She's exhausted."
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