Bad COP15? Good COP15!

Since I got back from Copenhagen, the most common response among my friends and colleagues has been disappointment with the outcome. 

That surprised me. First, because being in Copenhagen was extrordinarily inspiring. It was a privilege and a pleasure to be among the tens of thousands of delegates and activists from around the world working to help address this overwhelming threat.

Second, because being in Copenhagen gave me a sense of the enormity and difficulty of the task before us. Think of it. We are trying to get nearly 200 nations around the world to come together to make a commitment to deep and lasting changes in virtually every aspect of the global economy. This is an extrodinarily challenging undertaking that will require decades of sustained commitment.

Before I left for Copenhagen, a friend asked me how the COP process works. The answer is that there is no blueprint for reaching a global consensus agreement on climate change. Nothing of this scale and scope has ever been attempted.

I sympathize with those who see the Copenhagen Accord as inadequate to the task. Much, much more needs to be done. But as detailed by my NRDC colleagues (here, here, here, and here), the Copenhagen Accord is a big step forward that provides for real reductions in carbon pollution by the world’s biggest emitters, establishes a transparent, international reporting framework, and provides billions of dollars of assistance to those most threatened by climate change. There is plenty of work to do in the weeks, months and years to come. But make no mistake, we took a big step forward last week in Copenhagen.

Just now emerging is the story of the role that President Obama played in the final stages of the negotiations. He arrived to a process that threatened to break down in chaos and recrimination.  Through his direct personal involvement he helped forge a global agreement among all but five of the 192 nations present.

I don’t mean to undervalue the extrodinary efforts of so many others – including the 119 heads of state that participated, the largest gathering of world leaders ever. But over the course of only eleven months in office, President Obama has managed to get the U.S. ship of state to make a 180 degree change of course and start steaming in the right direction.  As an American, I am impressed and proud of what he has been able to accomplish.  

Thank you, Mr. President.