Monthly Archives: December 2009

Out of Thin Air: Visualizing Emissions in Copenhagen

What’s really going on at the UN Climate Change Conference (UN COP15)? Kate Fritz, a 2008 Reynolds scholar is on the ground in Copenhagen, Denmark and blogging to tell the tale. Fritz is part of the Millennium ART Foundation‘s delegation, which has just unveiled the “CO2 CUBE: Visualize a Tonne of Change” project.

The CUBE is a an art installation designed to help people visualize what one ton of CO2 emissions looks like the atmosphere. The average American emits one ton of carbon per month!

From Fritz’s blog:
“On the plane I sat next to a person who works for the United Nations
Development Programme. Lucky me! I can’t divulge anything about her,
because she told me sensitive information that had come to her through
the UN. We talked for a l
ong time about the goal of the negotiations,
how the actual negotiating works, and who the major figures are.
(Apparently the UN has a cast of characters as rich as a Woody Allen

Originally, the goal of this conference was to set
legally binding emissions reductions targets for every nation in the
world, so that a global regulatory scheme would be in place when the
first wave of Kyoto agreements expires in 2012. The UN has had a much
more difficult time than expected brokering these arrangements, so they
have scaled back their goal for COP15, so that the new plan is to
secure politically, as opposed to legally, binding agreements at this

This plan is going better than expected. Even as
recently as two months ago, things looked much worse for politically
binding agreements. But the recent announcements by China of 40% reduction in “carbon intensity” from 2005 levels by 2020, and the United States’ announcement
of 17% emissions reductions of 2005 levels by 2020, have breathed new
life into the talks…

UN friend says the main things to look out for over the next few weeks:
1. Concrete and individual emissions reductions targets from developed
countries. 2. Financing mechanisms for aid to developing countries for
technology transfer and adaptation to climate change. In terms of
financing, the main battle is between the US’ proposal that would give
the World Bank exclusive control over financing mechanisms for climate
change, and everyone else’s proposal to let the UN, along with other
major banks and international organizations handle financing. The
former plan would quadruple the size of the World Bank! And make it an
even stronger regulatory presence in the developing world. Perhaps you
can guess my views on this.

So, will Copenhagen fail? It depends
on when and how you set your expectations. Clearly the China/US target
announcements were a big deal, but they are only negotiating chips on
the table in advance of the talks. It remains to be seen what those
targets will look like in two weeks. Hu and Obama will both appear,
which is huge, but in my opinion mere appearances aren’t enough to call
the conference a success. The finance discussion is key. Apparently the
financing regulator (World Bank v. rest of the world) is completely
undetermined. If the US really wants the World Bank to govern climate
financing, and they make that a stipulation in their aid agreement,
this could be extremely detrimental for the other position. I’ll be
keeping close watch on this while I am here.

The UN delegates
were given detailed security briefings, elements of which my plane
buddy shared with me. The UN expects severe civil unrest akin to the 1999 WTO meetings in Seattle.
While the Danish government is doing their best to keep the conference
contained in one part of the city, demonstrations could happen
anywhere, and they are expected to be fierce and unruly. The largest
protest is scheduled for next Saturday, and she advised me to stay off
the street.”

As these events unfold, we’ll look to Fritz to tell us how this artistic representation has helped shape the conversation at COP15. Keep following the action and analysis at

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