As the climate change debate heats up, an international conference in Denmark could lead to a global effort to reduce carbon emissions and stave off the negative impacts of global warming.
Scientists, students, professors and government officials from around the world will convene in Copenhagen, Denmark, for 11 days to discuss solutions and address major concerns related to global climate change.
The main goal of the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference is to lay the framework to draft a comprehensive climate treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol — a global initiative signed by 187 countries that aimed to tackle climate change by placing binding guidelines for reducing carbon emissions. The United States was one of the few countries that did not ratify the treaty.
Other goals of the conference include providing financial support for developing countries that will have a hard time adapting to carbon emission reduction rules. A plan to develop a carbon scheme to end the destruction of world forests by 2030 is also on the agenda.
“[The conference] is really a critical next step in developing an international agreement around greenhouse gas emissions,” said Todd Reubold, spokesman for the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.
However, environmental groups have warned that the conference is more of a starting-off point, and it’s unlikely any formal treaties will be drafted.
“Copenhagen may not result in a final treaty for ratification by the countries, but there are a lot of signs suggesting serious progress,” said Michael Noble, executive director of Fresh Energy, a St. Paul-based clean energy advocacy group.
The United States has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels over the next 10 years. Several European Union countries, China and India are among other countries that have made similar pledges prior to the conference.
Noble said recent changes in the United States’ political climate has left him more optimistic than others about the conference and future climate change legislation.
“Even conservative senators … strongly accept the science of global warming,” he said. “We didn’t have any friends like that in 1997.”
But the conference comes at a tumultuous time for some in the science community.
Last week, e-mails stolen from the climate unit at the University of East Anglia appeared to show some of the world’s leading scientists discussing ways to shield data on climate change from public scrutiny and suppress others’ work.
Those who deny the influence of man-made climate change have used the e-mails to launch an argument that scientists have been conspiring to hide evidence about global warming.
Reubold said the incident is being overblown.
“I think [the e-mails] its being exaggerated, and it’s a little bit of a distraction from the climate talks that are coming up, because if you look at the entire body of climate change research, it still points to this as being a pretty big concern,” he said.
Although climate-change policies have made progress in the United States since the Kyoto Protocol was signed, Noble admitted the government hasn’t acted as quickly as it could.
“We don’t have an agreement between a House and a Senate and the president to carry to Copenhagen,” he said. “All of us expected we’d have an energy and global-warming bill signed by the president by the time Copenhagen came.”
Todd Reubold said the conference will serve as a stepping stone to more definitive agreements and treaties in the future.
“It’s more likely we’ll see a more formal international agreement in 2010, so this Copenhagen conference is really laying the groundwork for that,” Reubold said.
Students and professors at Copenhagen
University professor Aaron Doering and GoNorth! Program Director Mille Porsild will be attending the conference with more than 20 teachers and students from the United States, Canada and Norway. GoNorth! Is an Arctic research and learning program developed at the University.
Doering and Porsild gathered students from the Arctic regions to speak at numerous events taking place in Copenhagen. The group will present photo exhibitions depicting the immediate impact global warming is having on their lives.
“You can’t really get any stronger voice for climate change than Arctic kids today,” Porsild said. “Because they’re not talking about if it might or is it happening; they’re living with the fact that it is taking place, and their lives are changing because of it.”
Two Minnesota students will also travel to the conference as youth delegates with the Will Steger Foundation, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit. Reed Aronow, a Hamline alumnus, and University of Minnesota-Morris student Aurora Conley will be sharing their experiences from the conference over the Internet as a way for students and the general public to get a taste of Copenhagen and to build awareness about climate change issues.
—The Associated Press contributed to this article.