Fairfield University's Director of the Program on the Environment comments on greenhouse gas summit in Copenhagen
David Downie, Ph. D., director of Fairfield University's Program on the Environment and associate professor of Politics, said the world stage is set for progress over the next two weeks in Copenhagen. World leaders - including President Obama (who will participate next week with other heads of state) - are meeting in Denmark to discuss policies to curb greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate global climate change. Prior to joining Fairfield's faculty in 2008, Dr. Downie taught courses in environmental politics at Columbia University for 14 years.
"It will be important for negotiators to emerge from Copenhagen with a framework agreement in which nations agree both to take meaningful domestic actions to reduce greenhouse gases and to continue global negotiations toward a new formal treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012," Dr. Downie said. "Indeed, with Brazil, China, the European Union, India, Japan, Mexico, the United States and many others all signaling their willingness to commit to different types of new domestic and international action, the stage is set for progress in Copenhagen. Anything short of a strong framework agreement, however, would represent a significant problem in that it would erode chances of a strong, coherent global policy in the near term and would fail to provide the correct signal to the private sector."
What is important to keep in mind, he says, is that "many companies are poised to renew and expand green energy investments when the global economy recovers. Energy efficiency is already a profitable business - and can eliminate 10-20% of global greenhouse emissions while saving money. Wind, geothermal and solar are dropping rapidly in price and in some situations are already less expensive than building new coal-fired power plants, especially when one includes the environmental and health costs of coal that are usually not included in its price. New electric vehicles and advanced biofuels could soon hit the market (which is very important for the United States as our oil imports help finance policies and actions in some countries that run contrary to our interests and values)."
World leaders will send a clear signal to corporations regarding the decisions they make - or don't make at the summit, according to Dr. Downie. "Companies are less likely to continue making these investments if governments do not make it clear that they are serious about ending their long history of direct and indirect subsidies for fossil fuels, deforestation and other actions that emit large and unnecessary amounts of greenhouse gases. Copenhagen provides an historic opportunity to make such a statement."
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Posted on December 8, 2009
Vol. 42, No. 145