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December 14, 2009

3L Tim Ream Files Second “Dispatch” On His Personal Impressions of the Copenhagen Summit

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the University of Oregon or the University of Oregon School of Law.

Author’s Note: The following “dispatch” represents a quick snapshot of activities in Copenhagen at the climate summit. Activities are in a state of flux.

As I write this, the formal climate meetings have ground to a complete, absolute standstill. You might not read much media about this because it is kind of hard to understand. But what is clear is this. The little island country of Tuvalu (accent on the second syllable) is the hero in a fight to save its entire country from submersion.

Here is what is happening. There are two main bodies meeting here — one under the Framework Convention on Climate Change, another under the Kyoto Protocol. Under the Protocol, all developed countries, except the U.S., which refuses, have commitments to limit their emissions. There is a one process on-going here to strengthen these commitments. Since the U.S. refuses to be under the Protocol, though there is a second process under the Convention possibly to develop a new agreement, perhaps another protocol, to address the U.S. and others.

It is becoming clear now that there are three main camps defined by what they want to happen in these two processes. First, there is the group of emerging developing countries like China, India and Brazil, joined by oil producing countries, mostly OPEC. They want stronger commitments by developed countries and no new agreement that might affect them. Second, there are the developed countries that, more or less, now want to kill the Kyoto Protocol and maybe have some kind of new agreement under the Convention. Maybe. Then there is the group now led by Tuvalu. They include mostly low-lying island states and poor countries. They want to amend the Protocol to put stricter limits on developed countries, but they also want a new binding treaty under the Convention to put limits on the U.S. and the emerging developing countries like China.

The big developing countries say that we can’t stay under two degrees Celsius of warming (3.6 Fahrenheit) without deep cuts by the rich countries that got us into this problem in the first place. They are half right. The developed countries say that we cannot stay under two degrees without the big, fast-growing countries like China entering into a process to begin to reduce their emissions. They are half right too.

But on this problem, of course, half right is not enough. Half right is the same as subjecting the next, and maybe even this, generation to a high probability of climate catastrophe and certainly guaranteeing misery for billions.

Enter Tuvalu.

They have used the rules of the process to demand that they be heard. The process is consensus among 194 countries. It is a big deal in such a process for a single Party to shut things down. Of course, the U.S. does it all the time in international negotiations because it has the power to force others into line. But little Tuvalu only has the moral force of its own existential vulnerability. They cannot be part of a process that will destroy their nation. So they are risking everything to change the process.

Conversations are on-going still at 9 pm and might well go through the night, or through the whole weekend. Ministers have begun arriving. Heads of State will be here in six days. We’ll see how long things remain deadlocked. I mean, how long can this little country hold out for what is right? On a day when a new (peer-reviewed, not stolen from someone else’s computer) study appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finding that seas could rise by as much at 6 feet in just 90 years, the answer for little Tuvalu might be as long as it takes.

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