Copenhagen climate summit failed to achieve goals

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

“I’m sorry. We could have stopped catastrophic climate change... we didn’t.” —Future President Obama.

A digitally aged future President Obama was joined by several future leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and others, in a series of Greenpeace ads to coincide with COP15, or the more properly named 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference. In the ads, our current leaders apologize for failing to take action to stop the then-“catastrophic” climate change. Greenpeace has become more and more bold and extremist in its advertising; if we can still remember the spectacle that was the G-20 here in Pittsburgh, we might also recall the Greenpeace activists that dangled along with a climate change banner off our own West End Bridge, so these ads should come as no surprise.

Of course, we should assume Greenpeace is simply being fanatical, and that these apologetic ads are already outdated due to the far-reaching, environment-protecting, carbon-footprint-lowering resolutions agreed to in the harmonious COP15 meetings.

Except, oh wait, the conference was a failure. It didn’t work. No agreement was reached. No reductions in carbon emissions were agreed to. No successor to the Kyoto Protocol was created, signed, or ratified. The meeting went precisely as the Greenpeace ads suggested that a world looking back in 2020 would perceive.
On Dec. 7, the day the conference began, an exceptional declaration was sounded by 56 newspapers, each publishing the same editorial. Yes, in a journalistic world where one’s opinion is meant to distinguish your columnist, your editor, your paper from its competitors, newspapers across 45 countries together spoke with a singular voice. A voice that called for action, for steps to limit emissions, and for political bickering to be put aside. An editorial that was factual, terse, and, more importantly, a call to focus not on nationalistic pride, but on the future of humanity. There was still a hope that these politicians could come together, not to vie for their own country’s interests, but to act as representatives of the planet as a whole.

But we know this didn’t happen, and the aftermath is more telling than the meetings, as each country seems to have found another to blame. Did Denmark fail in its role as host, running secret, more exclusive meetings? Did the United States refuse to accept that as the largest carbon-emitter it needed to make the deepest cuts? Did China’s approach to negotiation destroy any hope for an open deliberation? Or, most obviously, did every government leader fail, as no agreement was reached?

The cautiously hopeful, tellingly worried voice of newspapers across the globe may not now clear their collective throat and applaud the leaders who met in Copenhagen for their progress, but must retreat into the corner, ashamed. The collective editorial must now wait until the end of this year, when the leaders come back together, for COP16 in Mexico, where they can hopefully put to paper words that can unite all of the countries present. They must create an agreement that will save a graying Obama from ever being forced to apologize to a decimated world.