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Copenhagen: Crests of hope, troughs of frustration

Daniel Kammen, Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy | December 15, 2009

Editor’s note:  Dan Kammen reports in from Copenhagen.

The Copenhagen Climate Conference mid-week #2 is now at full-pace.  Everything from protests to presidential appearances are taking place at a fast pace.

First of all, the meeting to this point feels very different than past COPs in that Week One had the sense of a very large trade show.  The number of booths, individuals and groups presenting their materials in every venue (from formal displays to ‘take our climate position papers piled in the bathrooms), and of technology and business propositions stashed, incongruously next to indigenous people’s displays in the ‘NGO Hall) was extreme.

A side-by-side pairing, of CO2 capture and storage and the real-time rogues gallery of ‘Fossil Fuel Fossils of the Day’ was one such example.



At top, carbon capture and storage corporate display adjacent to (below) the Climate Action Network Fossil of the Day award for the most fossil-fuel intensive action of the meeting.  At this point, Canada, the per-capita carbon emissions leader, also topped the leader board.

The main message at this point – with over 110 presidents and thousands of dignitaries arriving non-stop – is that of frustration, mixed with expectation.

First walking through the foot-paths and nicely decorated streets of COPenhagen you cannot miss the tasteful climate exhibits, such as the (melting) Danish ice bear at the WWF exhibit:


to the hope that Copenhagen can signal a new energy reality, in the ‘Hopenhagen’ campaign:


And then, of course, there are the over-the-top campaigns, for which the Brad Pitt sign may just be the local winner:


I suspect that Mr. Pitt would be embarrassed by this one.

But from there, the frustrations and expectations begin to surface. The logistics are hitting snags with snafus at the COP entrance, where people who had not registered during week 1 were standing in the cold for up to seven hours attempting to get in.  The lines at the entrance stretched from one metro stop to the next:


and even the sight of the wind-turbine in the parking lot of the conference center did little but give the crowd a sort of mechanical clock to watch as they stood, and stood, and stood:


Inside the COP the protests and frustrations were everywhere, and were very different from the excited and hopeful youth-oriented presentations of Week One.  The PlanetCall.Org event from – which I reported on and participated in on Friday, December 11 – was a celebration of innovative ideas and partnerships of young people who wanted to use their energy and ideas to change the climate narrative:


Jim Flannery, Dan Kammen, Jeremy Leggett and others with the student winners and presenters of new ideas for climate protection at the side-event.

Fast forward to Week 2, however, and protests are far more common.  A particularly poignant one was staged in front of the Canadian delegation offices.  It was made up of young people expressing their frustration and feelings of  disenfranchisement over the process and the slow pace of negotiations:




The protests are not limited to disgruntled students.

Monday afternoon the Group of 77 developing nations (G77) and China halted negotiations with their protest over both the degree to which obligations made under the Kyoto Protocol (which obligates only industrialized nations) were being ignored.  The African delegation, in fact, accused the host Danish leadership of undemocratic activities.  This, coming the same day that the logistics outside the meeting were breaking down, painted an increasingly poor view of the COP process which had been the subject of such meticulous preparations by the Danes in the months and years heading up to the COP.

The U. S. and China have also been engaged in a bitter public dialog, with accusations between the top negotiators on both sides over the degree to which the other was ‘ignorant’.  This is in stark contrast to the U. S. Presidential visit to Beijing less than a month before where ‘roundtables’ and ‘dialog’ on clean energy were the words of the day.  The shared problem of dependence on conventional coal and dramatic growth of the renewable energy sector in both the U. S. and China where captured under the rubric of ‘our governments should cooperate while our companies compete.’


C. S. Kiang, William Li, and Dan Kammen signed smart grid cooperative partnership agreement during the Obama-Hu Presidential summit in November, 2009.


Front page text of a cooperative agreement signed by the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, which I direct at UC Berkeley, and partners in China, on joint software, hardware, and policy development to support a ‘smart and clean’ grid research and deployment program to last the next many years.


U. S. Secretary of Energy Chu, U. S. Secretary of Commerce Locke, and Chinese Minister of Science and Technology Wan Gang during the Obama-Hu presidential summit, November 16 – 17, 2009.

This spirit of cooperation is hard to find in the public language between the two nations at Copenhagen.  At present the spat is over the refusal by the Chinese to permit inspection and verification of CO2 emissions from their industry, saying that this will be enforced by Chinese law.  Meanwhile the U. S. calls this ‘a deal breaker’.  Quietly, Australian Prime Minister Rudd, who lost recently at home on the implementation of a carbon trading scheme, but who speaks fluent Mandarin, has been invited by the host Danish delegation to rush to Copenhagen to play a special envoy role.

However, as many have noted, “the Chinese will refuse to cooperate as they do in trade and business deals, then at the point of total collapse, will suddenly find a way to ‘yes’ at the 11th hour.  That is why they are such good negotiators, and generally get what they want.  This 11th hour strategy keeps the legal teams sidelined as long as possible, making the agreement itself largely a hand-shake arrangement between heads of state.

As the negotiations move to the last frantic few days and hours, we will find out if the Chinese in particular see Copenhagen as the 11th hour, or if the G20 meeting in 2010,, or perhaps run-up meetings leading to the next COP in Mexico will be the 11½th hour.

What is clear is that with over 110 heads of state beginning to arrive, declarations and increasingly substantive pronouncements have to become the order of the day.  Already U. S. Secretary of Energy Steve Chu has announced a $650 million energy efficiency international plan to work with developing nations on both aggressive energy efficiency efforts and renewable energy training and deployment.  Secretary of State Clinton weighed in via an Op Ed in the International Herald Tribune, “The U. S.  is On Board”,  in which she issues a challenge to China in particular to work with the new U. S. position to build a new clean energy consensus.

As everyone from the U. N. Secretary General to NGO observers have noted, however, leaving so much of such a complex process up to the heads of state during what will be a frenetic final hours is not a recipe for great planet-saving actions, but is more conducive to political gesturing.

This is perhaps the biggest worry for a treaty that needs to fundamentally change how we price goods and services, energy, and defines the interaction of the current generations in power with those to come.  A billboard in Copenhagen highlighted the need for our economics to reflect the ‘life cycle’ of carbon as well as wider biodiversity and sustainability impacts of our lifestyle: A plate of oysters – listed not with their price in dollars, Euros or increasingly in RMB, but in terms of the carbon footprint they have to bring to our table.  Interestingly enough, a large group of the new students in the Energy and Resources Group at Berkeley – an exceptionally bright, dedicated, and cutting-edge group, want to study ‘food miles’, ‘slow food’, and the overall impact of our consumption choices.

As I wrote last week, my laboratory, in a project headed by myself and Chris Jones, built a very transparent carbon calculator employed by the State of California:

where anyone, individual, business, or municipal government can evaluate your carbon impacts, and in time work with public and private sector groups to reduce this impact ideally as efficiently as possible.


These changes will have to be large indeed to truly ‘bend the curve’.  A price on carbon pollution is essential, but not likely to fully emerge from this COP.  A framework agreement, and some dramatic and investment decisions both domestically and with developing nation partners is, however, a very real possibility.  And, there is always room for and surely will be surprises as well as dramatic one-liners to come from the final 72 hours of the Copenhagen meeting.


Billboard in downtown Copenhagen.

From the COP, I’ll head to Portugal where wind turbines are everywhere, and their national energy mix reaches over 40% wind powered.  A smart grid, thoughtful and open policies, and a national vision were all instrumental in the Portuguese plan.  Plus, the food is fabulous, with carbon food-mile costs yet to be added in.  That comes next.


Cluster of three wind turbines on a hill north of Lisbon, Portugal.

Comments to “Copenhagen: Crests of hope, troughs of frustration

  1. Nice post. Pictures speak louder than words. The world is finally waking up to the environment threat.

  2. It’s to bad that the CPO15 summit in Copenhagen went all wrong! I guess that we’ll have to wait for Mexico COP16 – too bad 🙁


    • actually, we are not ready to change yet. there are some who are, and are starting to make change in their own little way. but in general, we are just naive, apathetic beings and we are all in just for ourselves and not the safety of our race. just as simple as quitting smoking. but we ignore these self help articles. in that way, we are destroying not just ours, but everyone’s lives.

  3. Climate change is a global problem, and yet each one of us has the power to make a difference. Even small changes in our daily behaviour can help prevent greenhouse gas emissions without affecting our quality of life. In fact, they can help save us money!

  4. The saddest, possibly tragic observation that can be made about the Berkeley Blog, that should be representing the best and brightest thinking and problem solving at Berkeley today, is that there is so little posted on the subject of “Energy and Environment” which must be considered one, if not the most important burning issue today.

    One of the most important “Energy and Environment” opinions was made by Sir John Maddox in his 1998 book “What Remains to Be Discovered” in which he stated, in the “Avoidance of Calamity” chapter, that “Unconventional sources of energy, although free from CO@ emission, are physically incapable in the next century of substituting for any but a small part of present energy consumption. — there is no serious doubt that global warming will occur, if the addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere continues unchecked. Moreover, the end point would be global catastrophe. So there is a need to make and early start on the formal restriction of emissions of greenhouse gases.”

    To avoid global catastrophe he recommended that “small armies of scientists will be required to remove persisting uncertainties and to devise effective strategies for the avoidance of calamity” but “The experience of recent years in rich countries is not encouraging. Research communities are everywhere under pressure to be “relevant,” usually understood to mean that they should assist with national competitiveness in the production and sale of tangible traded goods.”

    So it is 2010 and the IPCC still appears unable to make the right things happen to prevent climate changes from resulting in calamity for Humanity. The sad, if not increasingly tragic cultural fact of life appears to have been at least partially explained by John Holbo in the Spring 2010 CALIFORNIA issue “The Tenure Tracts” article where he was quoted that he “finds the virtual salon a perfect antidote to the insulation of the ivory tower and the glacial pace of conventional scholarship.”

    Thank you for perpetuating the spirit of the Free Speech Movement with the Berkeley Blog.

    I pray that the Berkeley Blog can make the right things happen to protect, advance and perpetuate Humanity with the required sense of urgency.

  5. Why back mitigation instead of adaptation when the cost of mitigation could literally bankrupt civilization and adaptation properly done will have so many side benefits especially for the third world?

  6. I found your article very interesting, complete and reflects the apparent tension of the different negotiations. To me, global warming is a fact and I am still very surprised (and somewhat disappointed) that Copenhagen is not allowed to mark some progress in this field. I think we must remain optimistic, however.

  7. What an interesting article with a very in depth research!
    I wonder, is there really a way out to solve the global warming issues?? I meant, technology industries are growing faster than a piece of plant. More technology = more electricity usage.

  8. Wow pretty in depth coverage you reported. I am glad to see some action being taken for the prevention of global warming. I really believe that we need to be looking at a whole bunch of different ways to improve the environment and to show respect to our planet.

    I think many things could help, like uses cleaner, better and safer ways to make paper by not cutting down trees and using other sources for paper instead. Using other fuels beside fossil fuels… I was watching a science documentary where it says just by putting a bunch more ethanol fuel in our cars it can dramatically reduce pollution. Ethanol fuel burns clean unlike fossil fuels.

    Great post…

  9. As you know the climate skeptics in the US such as Fox News and Senator James Inhofe have been winning the battle for hearts and minds with polls showing the numbers aligned with the pro-global warming position steadily losing ground over the past year. One thing that struck me in watching coverage of Copenhagen on network TV is the lack of interest reflected in the near blackout of reporting. I had to go to Democracy Now for substantive reporting from Copenhagen. Climatology is such a difficult subject which has not been taught to school children like say history or natural science because it was not considered an important subject in the past. Even those of us with science education in college find it difficult with a need to appreciate statistical data and large scale fluctuations occuring over centuries. With such difficulties and the emergency nature of global warming I ask scientists in this field such as the IPCC to devise ways of informing the public in more engaging and powerful analogical expressions though this does not come naturally to their mode of thought and expression.

  10. I found your article interesting. Most global warming believers are hopping mad over the lack of progress and President Obama’s lackluster comments in Copenhagen. As a skeptic I am hopeful that your article will help keep believers content. I hope you noticed that both China and the USA moved the goalposts, basing their reductions on 2005 as a base year rather than 1990 and that China referrd to carbon effiency improvements that will allow them to grow their CO2 production and still claim they have met their goals.

    A couple of serious qustions:

    Why back carbon-trading as opposed to a carbon tax;especially since carbon-trading is so open to and rife with fraud?

    Why back mitigation instead of adaptation when the cost of mitigation could literally bankrupt civilization and adaptation properly done will have so many side benefits especially for the third world?

    Finally, if believers are so sure that there is overwhelming evidence of manmade catastrophic global warming, why not share this evidence publically rather than hiding behind unscientific terms such as settled and consensus. I believe that if you truly had such evidence you would be shouting it from the rooftops rather than hiding behind those mealy-mouthed words settled and consensus.

    Jon Salmi

  11. Hang onto your hats, now the meeting gets interesting. 110+ heads of state are now flooding in, all wanting to look good. Barely two nations are using the same metrics and signs of success or failure.

    The controversial chair of the meeting, Danish Climate and Energy Minister, Connie Hedegaard (soon to move to the same role, but for all of the EU), has just stepped aside for the Danish Prime Minister to become the official meeting chair.

    Everyone from UK PM Gordon Browne to special climate envoys from many nations are hinting at failure of the talks. Look for some surprise announcements. China does not really need a deal — they have already offered what they will do anyway — but China/Japan, or EU and, well, anybody truly committed to the issue could spring a surprise in the closing two days.

  12. Thanks for the insider update, Dan! In Instanbul, Oakland’s own are convening the semi-annual Ecocity Summit with various heads of planning ministries and the World Bank’s new E2City program. I like the comment on the food miles, because this fits into a vision of a city that can reduce its footprint. I also see Siemens’ call for more transit solutions. Any serious discussion about living more compactly?

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