Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Copenhagen: Crests of hope, troughs of frustration

By Daniel Kammen

Editor's note: Dan Kammen reports in from Copenhagen.

The Copenhagen Climate Conference mid-week #2 is now at full-pace. Everything from protests to presidential appearances are taking place at a fast pace.

First of all, the meeting to this point feels very different than past COPs in that Week One had the sense of a very large trade show. The number of booths, individuals and groups presenting their materials in every venue (from formal displays to take our climate position papers piled in the bathrooms), and of technology and business propositions stashed, incongruously next to indigenous peoples displays in the NGO Hall) was extreme.

A side-by-side pairing, of CO 2 capture and storage and the real-time rogues gallery of Fossil Fuel Fossils of the Day was one such example.



At top, carbon capture and storage corporate display adjacent to (below) the Climate Action Network Fossil of the Day award for the most fossil-fuel intensive action of the meeting. At this point, Canada, the per-capita carbon emissions leader, also topped the leader board.

The main message at this point with over 110 presidents and thousands of dignitaries arriving non-stop is that of frustration, mixed with expectation.

First walking through the foot-paths and nicely decorated streets of COPenhagen you cannot miss the tasteful climate exhibits, such as the (melting) Danish ice bear at the WWF exhibit:


to the hope that Copenhagen can signal a new energy reality, in the Hopenhagen campaign:


And then, of course, there are the over-the-top campaigns, for which the Brad Pitt sign may just be the local winner:


I suspect that Mr. Pitt would be embarrassed by this one.

But from there, the frustrations and expectations begin to surface. The logistics are hitting snags with snafus at the COP entrance, where people who had not registered during week 1 were standing in the cold for up to seven hours attempting to get in. The lines at the entrance stretched from one metro stop to the next:


and even the sight of the wind-turbine in the parking lot of the conference center did little but give the crowd a sort of mechanical clock to watch as they stood, and stood, and stood:


Inside the COP the protests and frustrations were everywhere, and were very different from the excited and hopeful youth-oriented presentations of Week One. The PlanetCall.Org event from which I reported on and participated in on Friday, December 11 was a celebration of innovative ideas and partnerships of young people who wanted to use their energy and ideas to change the climate narrative:


Jim Flannery, Dan Kammen, Jeremy Leggett and others with the student winners and presenters of new ideas for climate protection at the PlanetCall.org side-event.

Fast forward to Week 2, however, and protests are far more common. A particularly poignant one was staged in front of the Canadian delegation offices. It was made up of young people expressing their frustration and feelings of disenfranchisement over the process and the slow pace of negotiations:




The protests are not limited to disgruntled students.

Monday afternoon the Group of 77 developing nations (G77) and China halted negotiations with their protest over both the degree to which obligations made under the Kyoto Protocol (which obligates only industrialized nations) were being ignored. The African delegation, in fact, accused the host Danish leadership of undemocratic activities. This, coming the same day that the logistics outside the meeting were breaking down, painted an increasingly poor view of the COP process which had been the subject of such meticulous preparations by the Danes in the months and years heading up to the COP.

The U. S. and China have also been engaged in a bitter public dialog, with accusations between the top negotiators on both sides over the degree to which the other was ignorant. This is in stark contrast to the U. S. Presidential visit to Beijing less than a month before where roundtables and dialog on clean energy were the words of the day. The shared problem of dependence on conventional coal and dramatic growth of the renewable energy sector in both the U. S. and China where captured under the rubric of our governments should cooperate while our companies compete.


C. S. Kiang, William Li, and Dan Kammen signed smart grid cooperative partnership agreement during the Obama-Hu Presidential summit in November, 2009.


Front page text of a cooperative agreement signed by the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, which I direct at UC Berkeley, and partners in China, on joint software, hardware, and policy development to support a smart and clean grid research and deployment program to last the next many years.


U. S. Secretary of Energy Chu, U. S. Secretary of Commerce Locke, and Chinese Minister of Science and Technology Wan Gang during the Obama-Hu presidential summit, November 16 17, 2009.

This spirit of cooperation is hard to find in the public language between the two nations at Copenhagen. At present the spat is over the refusal by the Chinese to permit inspection and verification of CO 2 emissions from their industry, saying that this will be enforced by Chinese law. Meanwhile the U. S. calls this a deal breaker. Quietly, Australian Prime Minister Rudd, who lost recently at home on the implementation of a carbon trading scheme, but who speaks fluent Mandarin, has been invited by the host Danish delegation to rush to Copenhagen to play a special envoy role.

However, as many have noted, the Chinese will refuse to cooperate as they do in trade and business deals, then at the point of total collapse, will suddenly find a way to yes at the 11 th hour. That is why they are such good negotiators, and generally get what they want. This 11 th hour strategy keeps the legal teams sidelined as long as possible, making the agreement itself largely a hand-shake arrangement between heads of state.

As the negotiations move to the last frantic few days and hours, we will find out if the Chinese in particular see Copenhagen as the 11 th hour, or if the G20 meeting in 2010,, or perhaps run-up meetings leading to the next COP in Mexico will be the 11 th hour.

What is clear is that with over 110 heads of state beginning to arrive, declarations and increasingly substantive pronouncements have to become the order of the day. Already U. S. Secretary of Energy Steve Chu has announced a $650 million energy efficiency international plan to work with developing nations on both aggressive energy efficiency efforts and renewable energy training and deployment. Secretary of State Clinton weighed in via an Op Ed in the International Herald Tribune, The U. S. is On Board, in which she issues a challenge to China in particular to work with the new U. S. position to build a new clean energy consensus.

As everyone from the U. N. Secretary General to NGO observers have noted, however, leaving so much of such a complex process up to the heads of state during what will be a frenetic final hours is not a recipe for great planet-saving actions, but is more conducive to political gesturing.

This is perhaps the biggest worry for a treaty that needs to fundamentally change how we price goods and services, energy, and defines the interaction of the current generations in power with those to come. A billboard in Copenhagen highlighted the need for our economics to reflect the life cycle of carbon as well as wider biodiversity and sustainability impacts of our lifestyle: A plate of oysters listed not with their price in dollars, Euros or increasingly in RMB, but in terms of the carbon footprint they have to bring to our table. Interestingly enough, a large group of the new students in the Energy and Resources Group at Berkeley an exceptionally bright, dedicated, and cutting-edge group, want to study food miles, slow food, and the overall impact of our consumption choices.

As I wrote last week, my laboratory, in a project headed by myself and Chris Jones, built a very transparent carbon calculator employed by the State of California:


where anyone, individual, business, or municipal government can evaluate your carbon impacts, and in time work with public and private sector groups to reduce this impact ideally as efficiently as possible.


These changes will have to be large indeed to truly bend the curve. A price on carbon pollution is essential, but not likely to fully emerge from this COP. A framework agreement, and some dramatic and investment decisions both domestically and with developing nation partners is, however, a very real possibility. And, there is always room for and surely will be surprises as well as dramatic one-liners to come from the final 72 hours of the Copenhagen meeting.


Billboard in downtown Copenhagen.

From the COP, Ill head to Portugal where wind turbines are everywhere, and their national energy mix reaches over 40% wind powered. A smart grid, thoughtful and open policies, and a national vision were all instrumental in the Portuguese plan. Plus, the food is fabulous, with carbon food-mile costs yet to be added in. That comes next.


Cluster of three wind turbines on a hill north of Lisbon, Portugal.