Science - January 6, 2010

Copenhagen: What did you get out of the summit?

The climate change summit has ended with a weak accord. You might say that it has failed. But is it really a flop? Scientists and students from Wageningen UR were in Copenhagen, some for a while and others had stayed longer. What did they get out of the summit?

Participants in The Road to Copenhagen, an electric scooter ride to the climate summit in Copenhagen
Merit van den Berg, MSc student in Climate Studies and fellow worker in Project Survival.
'Copenhagen was more than I had expected. The event has been successful as far as Project Survival is concerned. We managed to get nine youths from Africa to be present at the conference. We didn't know beforehand what sort of persons these were and what they could do for the delegations of their countries. But they did carry out important tasks. A youth from Swaziland was even the third member of his delegation and was present at all the major meetings. Our small contribution is therefore a success.
'Our project has resulted in strong ties with the African youths. You get to learn about other cultures and realize that the differences aren't that big. We want the same things, we all have the same ambition: to do something against climate change.'
Pier Vellinga, professor in Earth System Sciences and the man behind the Holland Climate House in Copenhagen.
'Copenhagen enables us to perceive what's possible and what's not in this area. Yes, that sounds a little harsh. We have all counted on a top-down accord which binds all countries. But countries such as China and the U.S. do not want to be guided by a binding UN-treaty.  That's too sensitive. The matter needs to be given another turn. Instead of a top-down treaty, we have to go for a bottom-up approach. The countries indicate what they want to, and can do.  Their activities would be recorded and monitored by the UN. In this way, the UN becomes the follower instead of the leader. As far as climate is concerned, this is an admission of weakness, since bottom-up is second best. This is the harsh conclusion of Copenhagen.
'Copenhagen has made climate change weigh really heavy on the agenda. Climate change has become a game of chance, and not about threats and commitments anymore. We are entering a new era, a green one, instead of one with fossil fuels.
Copenhagen has also enabled us to see how we should carry on in Wageningen. The biobased economy (which links the sectors agriculture and chemistry), the 'less meat agenda' (healthy human in a healthy planet) and the Delta Alliance (how to live, work and produce food in a low-lying area) are three leading issues behind which Wageningen can be the driving force. The green train goes rumbling on.'
Christopher Baan, BSc student in International Development and delegation leader of the World Student Community for Sustainable Development.
'I knew that it would be overwhelming and indeed it was. For me, the best moment was handing over our e-book Re:solutions  to Tim Flannery, the chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council. This book has examples of sustainable initiatives to counter climate change. We presented it between two side-events. It was quite a success. With it, we want to show that we're working on serious solutions. Our message is: we want more than only political influence. We can't pin our trust on politicians all the way. We, the youth, have to come up with solutions too and get people in our community involved.
'I'm very inspired by the enormous commitment from youths and NGOs to forge new coalitions and cooperation. I am sure that this will grow stronger in the future. Copenhagen  has clearly shown that politicians and the UN are no longer the major players to tackle a complex issue such as climate change. What would it be like if we were to boycott the next summit in Mexico and form a partnership with the private sector instead? We would then be way ahead of the politicians. This is a challenging thought.'
Eddy Moors, team leader of Earth System Sciences and Climate Change.
'It was the first time that we in Wageningen put up something like the Holland Climate House. It was a new experience. I'm satisfied with the number of policy makers from the Dutch and other delegations who turned up. They could have given something like this a miss because of  busy schedules. Their chief concern was of course the negotiations. It's difficult to judge the impact of our. We hope that something would come out of it. I organized a side- event myself about the monitoring of greenhouse gases. That control check of the reported discharge is the very thing which had been removed from the treaty text. Still, I hope that something will be done about that. We are developing an integrated monitoring system under 'Climate for Space'. We showed the activities being carried out in this area in our country. It was also very interesting to see different walks of life mingling together: scientists, negotiators, journalists, NGO people and students; you can easily tell them apart.'
Anouk van Baalen, MSc student in Climate Studies and representative of Friends of the Earth Netherlands in Copenhagen.
'I represented Environmental Defence in Copenhagen in my capacity as trainee. We were there as observers to lobby and to demonstrate. We are not pleased with the outcomes, something we want to make clear about. The outcomes should be more ambitious and more binding. This is a disappointment, considering that so many country leaders were present.
'I find it difficult to say something positive about Copenhagen. Well, alright, there were really many people present. That was very special. It's an indication that the matter is pressing and many people feel something should be done about it. A lot of information was given at side-events, thus disseminating much knowledge, which is good. What I've personally learnt is the political process behind the negotiations. I see many differences which are poles apart. The U.S. had a delegation of a hundred people, while developing countries could only send a handful. That's unfair. Concerning this aspect, I've shed some naivety in Copenhagen.'

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