A Sense of Urgency Ahead of Cop15?

I am currently in the Maryland countryside, participating in a Transatlantic Media Dialog hosted by the German Embassy and the Ecologic Institute. The mission of the event is, in part, to serve as a followup to the efforts the German foreign ministry has made in recent months to create a better understanding of German energy and climate policy, including the international environmental journalist press trip in which I participated last spring. These efforts serve to foster greater communication on the Transatlantic Climate Bridge begun by the German government in January.

Policy experts,writers, and journalists from both the EU and US have an opportunity here to discuss climate policy and public perceptions of the issue in the final days before the COP15 climate conference in Copenhagen next month.

It has been widely reported that the definition of success in Copenhagen is steadily shifty downward in a "management of expectations" as the theatrics in the US Senate over the Kerry-Boxer climate bill play out. As goes the US Senate, it is understood and feared, so goes what can be achieved at COP15.

Much of the discussion yesterday focused on the varying perceptions of the state of negotiations on both sides of the Atlantic. Those in the EU typically, and rightly look at the US as laggards in climate protection and energy policy. Those in the US see much of the touted gains in emissions reductions in the EU as "Fall Wall" profits - pointing to the fact the as much as 50% of the emissions reductions in the EU since 1990 is due to the collapse of Eastern European industry in the wake of the fall of the Berlin wall. In light of that, current US efforts may be far more ambitious than they seem at first blush.

Both sides have legitimate arguments, and the discussion served to highlight the differing perspectives of how we got where we are today (and I will touch more on this in subsequent posts).

What is at issue now, however, with COP15 looming just a few short weeks ahead, is where do we go from here? For some time, 2009 has been understood as the year that climate change comes onto the international stage with the world community grappling with the growing impacts of climate change and working to move beyond the Kytoto Protocol expiring in 2012. In many parts of the world there has been a growing sense of urgency that time to act is increasingly short. But that sense of urgency is perceived as lacking in the US, as expressed by Jakob Eriksen, a counselor for climate affairs with the Danish Embassy based in Washington DC.

Eriksen's closed his address yesterday imploring the US to regain that sense of urgency, asking "Where is it? What happened? Where is the debate in the US media?"

Speaking with Eriksen afterwards, he told me that despite the apparent lack of urgency in the public's perception of the issue, and despite the starkly polarized posturing in Congress, the political momentum is probably not going to be greater than it is now. The Obama administration expresses commitment on getting legislation done on climate change, as will as a willingness to to go to Copenhagen if it will help seal some sort of a deal.

The time is now, and the matter could not be more urgent.

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