Green revolution: still possible amid deep recession?
Economic retreat could hamper green investment – but it could also spur a drive to move economies away from fossil-fuel dependencies.
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Analysts are skeptical that a global deal will emerge that specifies how deeply the world intends to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a certain date. There are also disagreements on how much money the rich world should give to help developing nations. "The funds are nowhere near the scale that will be required," says Froggatt.Skip to next paragraph
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The new US administration will be crucial in framing the debate ahead of Copenhagen. Burke says Obama will not get into the same situation as with Kyoto, where the US negotiated a treaty but then couldn't get it through Congress. "You'll see legislation start in Congress this year and it will be ambitious, but nobody thinks it will be completed this year.... The US will be a much more constructive ... player, but will still find it difficult to sign up to emissions targets," he says. Obama's powerful environmental team may instead use existing clean air acts to drive a reduction in emissions.
Brown says Copenhagen is just the tip of the (melting) iceberg. "Internationally negotiated climate agreements are largely obsolete," he says, with talks and ratification taking years. He says countries, businesses, and local authorities are acting unilaterally because it makes commercial and social sense. "It has nothing to do with climate negotiations. The people investing in wind farms are doing so because they expect to make money."
Where is the science heading?
One thing's for sure: 2009 will be warmer than 2008. Last year was the coolest of the current millennium. But it was also the 10th hottest on record. The only years in the last century that were hotter were 1997 and 1998.
"We are on an upward trajectory of 0.2 degrees per decade," Professor Jones says. "The trouble is, greenhouse gas emissions are going up faster than that; the ocean is picking up a significant amount of CO2 and cannot go on doing that. More will stay in the atmosphere, and as you get more warmth in polar regions, you'll get more greenhouse gases released."
Those emissions have jumped 70 percent since 1970. CO2 levels in the atmosphere are at around 380 parts per million. Scientific consensus wants this benchmark figure stabilized at or below 450 to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees this century. Some fear this is no longer possible.
Who is likely to lead global efforts?
Europe's deal to cut emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and source 20 percent of energy from renewables by the same date bolsters its reputation as a leader and sets something of a global standard. "It was a really important deal," says Burke. "There was some risk that the internal dissension would derail the EU commitment to the "20-20-20" package and that was avoided. It would have been catastrophic for prospects for next year if the EU had backed off." Some have criticized the EU for watering down its agreements, but the continent still has world leaders in critical areas – Germany in renewable technologies, for example, and Britain in offshore wind power. And British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are already talking about creating green jobs through investment.