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Seminal moments in Copenhagen

December 14, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    WIDJA (flickr)  </span>
    Al Gore speaks at a COP 15 side event entitled "Greenland Ice Sheet - Melting Snow and Ice: Calls for Action." Photo: WIDJA (flickr)

COP15 (UN Climate Change Conference) has had its peaks and troughs. The troughs have related to both the process and the logistics — the temporary withdrawal of the support of African nations sent almost palpable frissons of panic around the negotiating room. For a while, it seemed that there really could be a possibility that we would all go home with no agreement in place. Luckily, all were back at the negotiating table a few hours later, but it felt like a close call.

The logistical troughs were more immediate, but nonetheless uncomfortable. The atrocious administrative failures left many out in the cold today — literally. Hundreds waited up to ten hours in freezing temperatures, like cattle behind the barriers, to gain access to the Bella Center. Many had to leave without ever gaining access — despite having prior registration for the event.

However, for those who made it through the barriers, there were some real highlights with Al Gore’s presentation being one of those — despite the desperate message that he and his fellow panellists were portraying. Both Al Gore and the scientists who preceded him stressed that the effects of glacier and ice melt are going to far exceed the earlier UNFCCC predictions. Not only are the Greenland ice cap and Western Antarctica melting far faster than was previously thought, but the Himalayan glaciers are melting at a rate that is placing the lives of more than a billon people in jeopardy. Sea level rises of around one meter are predicted by the end of the century, which would displace an estimated 100 million people from their homes and livelihoods. To put this in context, we were told that the negotiators were working within the parameters of a 4 degree rise in temperature by the end of the century.

For most countries this is a disastrous scenario, but for developing countries it is the stuff of nightmares. It is a nightmare that has millions of people fleeing their homes — either because of conflict or because of diminishing resources.

For Mercy Corps these are urgent times, but our response has to be measured and appropriate. The very urgency of the situation makes it all the more important that funding and other resources are allocated where they can have the highest impact and most immediate effect.