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February 03, 2010

Checking the Copenhagen report card

Under the Copenhagen Accord, January 31 was the deadline for participating countries to report their commitments to reduce climate change. The U.S. Climate Network has the list of country commitments including the U.S., EU, China, India and Brazil. According to the UN, fifty-five countries in total—representing over 78 percent of global emissions—made pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A quick perusal of the numbers, however, casts doubt on their value. They include a mix of goals that use different baseline years and measurements for reductions, making it difficult to compare commitments between countries. For example, many countries have emission targets. Others, like China, use carbon intensity (fossil fuels per economic unit). The weakness of the U.S. proposal stands out. Its proposed 17-percent reduction in emissions by 2020 is contingent on the passage of U.S. climate change legislation (Hello? Congress?).

The positive spin is that many countries are making their first public commitments within an international context. Some are raising previously announced goals and most are going ahead with national initiatives of some sort, despite the emptiness of the accord. Equally important is that by submitting their reduction goals, countries are demonstrating a willingness to continue working through the UN process despite its trials and tribulations.

Ben Lilliston


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