BBC online news http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/richardblack/
"A whale of a week for climate
Richard Black 9 Mar 09, 15:12 GMT
Two of my five picks of environment stories to watch this year may have significant new chapters written this week - and the new US administration of Barack Obama is a key player in both.
In Copenhagen, climate scientists, economists and policy makers will be meeting for a three-day conference that will share some of the latest thinking on the likely impacts of climate change, how the natural world is already being influenced, the costs and benefits of various types of action to mitigate it and adapt to it, and so on.
The Copenhagen meeting is an important one. It will be the final major global attempt to weave the various strands of climate research together before the annual UN summit, in the same city, in December, which is supposed to formulate a new global climate treaty - bigger, longer-lasting and more profound than the Kyoto Protocol.
The proper global body for this, of course, is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but that produces major assessments only every five years or so, and they are by definition somewhat out of date because of the organisation's lengthy collation and review processes.
So the Danish government thinks there's a need for something a bit sharper off the mark, yet still authoritative - hence this week's meeting.
Prominent on the agenda are some of the big unknowns. By how much are sea levels likely to rise (an issue on which the IPCC was, by its own admission, cautious in its 2007 assessment)? Are natural "sinks" such as forests and oceans absorbing less carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as some recent studies suggest? Can practices in agriculture or forestry be modified so more CO2 is absorbed?
On the economics side, there will be discussion of what various plans for curbing emissions might cost the global economy, and which economic tools would be the best ones to deploy.
The scientific conclusions will all still be couched in the language of probabilities, but the political dignitaries, such as Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, are likely to use more concrete terms when they outline the implications.
Whatever the demands are for "action now", the conference is unlikely to change the underlying political realities.
Many Kyoto adherents are some way off meeting even their protocol targets [174Kb PDF] for reducing emissions and in difficult economic times, it will be hard for industrialised countries to make the financial contributions that the developing world is likely to demand as the price of a new global agreement.
So many eyes will again turn to Barack Obama and his pledge to lead the world anew on climate change.
But given that US emissions have risen by about one-sixth since 1990 - the baseline year for all these calculations - his administration will struggle to pledge carbon cuts by 2020 that look huge in the context of scientists' and activists' demands for immediate and drastic reductions.
There was talk a couple of months ago that one of Mr Obama's senior energy or environment people - or even the president himself - might pitch up in Copenhagen, though that now seems to be off the agenda, which will presumably save them being asked lots of questions about a US climate policy that has not yet been formulated. ""
People need to get organized. Things need to change. And the change can be made. And made sooner than the meeting next December. We can do this. To find out how, please see www.campaignforgreen.com.