With hundreds of countries at the negotiating table, finding a solution in Copenhagen that works for everyone is pretty hard to imagine. China wants growth and voluntary targets, India wants the West to take more responsibility, Nigeria wants compensation for lost oil revenues, while the US simply wants a pragmatic deal that keeps the economy rolling. Developing countries want help modernizing and payments for maintaining ecosystems. And Europe is focusing on keeping us below 450 PPM of CO2 and the the magic 2 degree Celsius figure.
So when a smaller country like Tuvalu walks out of the meetings in protest, what should be done? Tuvalu consists of a scattered group of low lying atolls. The highest elevation is only 15 ft above sea level, which gives Tuvalu the second-lowest maximum elevation of any country. For them, a rise of more than 1.5C (rolling back to 350 PPM) is not negotiable at Copenhagen. Anything more, and they (like the Maldives) expect to be under water.
Both Tavalu and The Maldives are part of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a group of the smallest and most vulnerable countries at the conference. Their “1.5 C or nothing” position is supported by many of the developing nations, and even more NGOs, who have been rallying around the magic number “350″ for quite a while.
The problem is that getting back down to 350 seems to be nearly impossible. As I wrote recently, what’s on the table from the major emitters isn’t even enough to keep us below the 450 target.
For you data-geeks, a couple of simulation tools have been developed to show how far off the current proposals are and what it would take to get to the 350 number. One estimate is that it will also take at least an additional $10 Trillion dollars over the next 20 years, a price tag that just won’t cut it. Trying to negotiate this sort of behavioral and financial change is like putting the mice in council.
So what next? Without compromise, the bigger world players won’t sign on. With compromise, many of the Small Island States can’t sign on.
Is there such a thing as “acceptable losses” when it comes to a climate deal? Do we need to focus on triage and minimizing the damage, or refuse to compromise when it comes to climate refugees? I think we are being offered a Hobson’s Choice: a lot is at stake, and a deal needs to get done. These are certainly tough decisions to make – what do you think?