Governing a single nation is complex, but building agreement among 200 diverse countries is a monumental task.
Getting those nations to solve a global problem, which affects each country differently, is beyond monumental. The
United Nations will attempt to do just that this December.
Human ingenuity and population growth have lead to climate change because of carbon emissions from fossil fuels.
People have proposed many ways of limiting climate change. This article is about the diplomatic approach; a future
article will look at the most cost-effective tactic - family planning.
In an attempt to limit climate change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was formed in 1992
at the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The conference
holds annual meetings to consider progress on climate change, called Conferences of the Parties." The 15th meeting
will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark, this December.
The outcome of COP3, the third meeting held in Kyoto, Japan, 12 years ago, was the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change
(often referred to simply as Kyoto"). This treaty was meant to limit greenhouse-gas emissions (especially carbon
dioxide). The 184 countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol agreed to lower emissions by 6 to 8 percent below 1990
levels. Although the United States signed the protocol, the Senate never ratified it. The Bush administration finally
rejected Kyoto in 2001, fearing its ratification would harm our economy. Kyoto is not strong enough, does not include
the United States and expires in 2012. It is time to negotiate another treaty that will be acceptable to all
COP15, nicknamed Copenhagen," promises to be a huge affair with 192 countries represented. All the beds in the city
already have been reserved, so don't plan on trying to attend at the last minute. The conference probably will not
nail down a final document, but we hope the meeting will generate the skeleton for one. The goal is an enforceable
treaty that will significantly decrease greenhouse-gas emissions. Hopefully, the treaty will be strong enough and
enacted quickly enough so global warming will be limited to 1½ or, at most, 2 degrees Celsius.
Large U.N. conferences have preparatory meetings at which much of the conference's business actually is transacted.
Last month, the U.N. hosted the Summit on Climate Change in New York, attended by 100 heads of state. It was unique
in that its purpose was to encourage participation in COP15 at the highest levels. President Obama was there. In
closing his speech he said, We must seize the opportunity to make Copenhagen a significant step forward in the
global fight against climate change."
At the end of the summit, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon summarized the meeting by saying, There is little time
left. The opportunity and responsibility to avoid catastrophic climate change is in your hands."
Because it is unlikely anyone reading this article attended the summit or will attend Copenhagen, I suggest two Web
sites for information and action. The first - 360.org - has the goal of lowering carbon dioxide levels below the
current 385 parts per million. Another - Hopenhagen.org - strives to make Copenhagen successful. Please join me in
signing the petition on this site that begins: We the peoples of the world urge political leaders to: Seal the deal
at COP15 on a climate agreement that is definitive, equitable and effective." It ends with the desire that we secure
climate justice for all." Equity in greenhouse-gas reduction will be the subject of the next column.
Decreasing carbon emissions is vital for our children and grandchildren. The Copenhagen meeting will offer the best
chance to do so.
I would like to add a few words about Morley Ballantine, who inspired this column. Always a champion of women's
issues, concerned about population growth and a defender of access to safe and legal abortion, I asked her in 1994 if
she would help me publish a book about population. She said she couldn't, but that I could publish it, a chapter at a
time, as a column in the Herald.
We agreed with a handshake that I would keep the copyrights and be paid $30 a column, which I would donate to Planned
Parenthood. Although the Herald has lived up to its part of the bargain, I am not sure I have always increased my
annual gift to Planned Parenthood by $360.
Morley has been one of my inspirations and heroes since then. After a long and illustrious life, she died this month.
May she rest in peace.
Richard Grossman practices obstetrics and gynecology in Durango. Reach him at "mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com.
© Richard Grossman MD, 2009