UVic Torch -- Spring 2009
Autumn 2009,
Volume 30, Number 2

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The Copenhagen Challenge
By Peigi McGillivray

IN DECEMBER, NEGOTIATORS FROM 192 COUNTRIES WILL GATHER for the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Can they hope to establish a climate agreement that sets stricter emission ceilings for 2012, when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends? Some of UVic’s leading climate researchers offer forecasts of what’s likely to be decided (or not) in Copenhagen.

Prof. Andrew Weaver, Canada Research Chair in climate modeling and analysis:
“We are trying to increase policy-makers’ awareness, so that the targets they set will be strict enough to make a difference,” says Weaver, who, with a group of other international climate scientists, sent an open letter to Copenhagen negotiators. They called for a focus on reducing current emission trends, the cumulative emission burden, and the need for a global agreement to leave existing fossil carbon reserves untapped. “It may be our last chance.”

Tom Pedersen, director of the UVic-based Pacific Institute of Climate Solutions:
“The landscape is evolving rapidly in a positive direction. China’s climate advisors have urged their government to set firm targets to curb greenhouse gas emissions so they peak around 2030. That’s a huge change. And India’s prime minister has acknowledged not just the importance of the issue to his country, but the obligation India has to address it. I’m an eternal optimist. There are some good signs, and some shining examples for the world to follow — including California and BC, where our carbon tax is already making people and industries think differently about old habits.

Robert Gifford, environmental psychologist:
“We’ve identified more than a dozen (barriers to action). One of the most influential is uncertainty. If we feel uncertain about where or when or how climate change is going to affect us, we’re much less likely to do anything. If that uncertainty is reduced, action is more likely. As climate change begins to affect more countries in more ways, the pressure to act increases. I think there’s good reason to hope for the best at Copenhagen, because the barriers to action are being reduced, for governments as well as for ordinary people.”

Gordon Smith, director of the UVic Centre for Global Studies:
“It will be extremely challenging to reach consensus on anything,” says Smith, “I just don’t think the conditions are right for a substantive agreement right now. There is no effective organization for decision-making, and policy-makers don’t seem to realize how inseparable climate, energy, and the global economy really are. It may be that all we can hope for from Copenhagen is some kind of basic framework. If that happens, and negotiators fail to reach consensus, people in countries around the world will be angry. They will put pressure on their governments, and governments will finally act.”

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