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American Today


Climate Change in Copenhagen

By Mike Unger

Photo: Washington College of Law professor David Hunter will be taking some students to the climate change summit in Copenhagen.

Washington College of Law professor David Hunter will be taking some students to the climate change summit in Copenhagen.

David Hunter, the former executive director of the Center for International Environmental Law, has been involved with climate change negotiations since the early 1990s. As the world gathers in Copenhagen to try to reach an agreement on the issue by Dec. 18, the Washington College of Law professor once again will be there, this time with six AU students.

We caught up with Hunter before he leaves on Saturday to find out what’s on the agenda at the United Nations summit in Denmark.

Q – What is the main objective of this summit?

A –
“To reach a new global agreement on how to address the issue of climate change. The preferred goal by most environmentalists is for industrialized countries to set a binding cap on net greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide most notably, and other emissions that come from fossil fuel burning.”

Q – What would environmentalists like to see from the developing countries?

A –
“Some binding actions by the major developing countries. Both China and India have vowed to improve the efficiency of their economies, but given the large amount of growth in their economies, their emissions will still go up.

Some countries might improve energy efficiency in certain industries. Brazil has agreed to curb admissions from their forestry sector.”

Q – What does President Obama hope to accomplish when he attends the summit?

A -
From the U.S. perspective, the Senate for a long time has said that we don’t want to take binding steps without binding steps from China and India. In addition, I think the Obama administration is a little bit gun-shy because back in 1997 the Clinton administration agreed to the Kyoto Protocol and that never got close to confirmation in the Senate.

In order to bring China and India along into a stronger agreement, the U.S. has to put more on the table, but we don’t yet have clarity on [what] that will be.

The Obama administration is kind of dancing between these two goals. They feel like they’ve learned you can’t drive U.S. policy from reaching an international agreement.”

Q – What has to happen in order for the summit to be considered a success?

A –
“I think success has been redefined over time. About two years ago there was something called the Bali Work Plan that set out the framework for negotiations. I think some of the diplomats will say it’s a success if we move the agenda forward and a long-term set of cooperative goals are agreed to.

I think we will achieve that. Parties will agree to global cuts of about 50 percent by something like 2050. Those numbers are selected to limit climate change to two degrees [Celsius] in increase in temperature.

We’re already locked into about a degree or 1.3 or 4. The science says limit it to two degrees and the impacts are likely to be manageable. When you get up to three or four degrees you’re starting to flirt with catastrophic consequences.