Six weeks from now, world leaders will gather in Copenhagen, Denmark, to hammer out a treaty on climate change. But a panel at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies said they were skeptical a treaty would translate into real action.
Over 120 undergraduates, graduates and professor flocked to Kroon Hall Wednesday afternoon to listen to four members of the Yale World Fellows program speak about the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference. While the World Fellows said a comprehensive treaty is necessary to replace the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, they warned that politics will prevent countries from arriving at a consensus.
“[There’s been] a lot of talk, but not in my mind, a lot of action,” said panelist Tim Jarvis, an environmental scientist.
Without the backing of the United States, the panelists said, the chances that world leaders would pass a more stringent treaty than the Kyoto Protocol were slim. Panelist Vincent Perez, the energy secretary of the Philippines from 2001 to 2005, showed a chart of all the countries involved in the climate change deal. The United States, Perez said, was at the bottom right of the chart — powerful but unsupportive.
Although U.S. support for climate change has increased under the Obama administration, the escalation of the conflict in Afghanistan and the battle over health care reform have diverted the administration’s attention, Perez said.
“We cannot reach a deal without the United States,” Perez said.
While many countries have reported large reductions in their greenhouse emissions in the past decade, Jarvis said, people should not take these numbers at face value. The United Kingdom has reported a 12 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions — the largest percentage in the world — since 1990, Jarvis said. But most of the reduction, he added, was due to the current recession and industrial downturn. If not for the recession slowing down economic activity, carbon dioxide emissions in the United Kingdom would have only dropped four percent since 1990, he said.
The public, the panelists said, should press their leaders to make real commitments to fighting climate change at the Copenhagen conference. Otherwise, said Yale environmental law professor Dan Esty LAW ’86, discussions that were a “flaming failure” would be better than false success.
“The real danger is cover-up, [or] political leaders passing non-binding political declarations without any substance,” said panelist Sascha Müller-Kraenner, the managing director and European representative of The Nature Conservancy, a international conservation organization.
The panelists also offered insights on how climate change was affecting their home regions. Gidon Bromberg, the director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, an environmental organization, said climate change would lead to further animosity and conflicts in the Middle East, the world’s most water-stressed region. A fight over water plays a huge part in the Israel-Palestine conflict, Bromberg said. Climate change would affect countries dependent on agriculture, such as Jordan, and the expected rise in sea level could contaminate fresh water sources for 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza, he added.
“Increasing water scarcity means increased political insecurity,” Bromberg said.
Three interviewed audience members said they were frustrated by the notion that curbing climate change will be a difficult process.
Joy Sun ’12 said she was disappointed by how countries were placing their own interests above an issue that affected the entire planet.
“It’s dangerous when the environment is put second to economic development,” Sun said.
The panel was hosted by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy.