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Thursday, November 19,2009

Local researchers' work will take center stage at Copenhagen climate conference

By Jefferson Dodge

Updating a Rough Guide

Another COP15 attendee from Boulder who doesn’t fit the traditional mold of climate scientist is Robert Henson, a writer/editor for the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), the organization involving 70 universities that manages NCAR.

Henson is not going to Copenhagen on behalf of NCAR or UCAR, although he says he will contribute to the UCAR website “Notes from Copenhagen” while he is there. But he is paying his own way because the main reason for making the trip is to gather material for a side project: the third edition of his book, The Rough Guide to Climate Change, which was published in 2006.

Henson says that when he was writing the book, in 2005, the U.S. politics surrounding climate change were different. In America, there was still some question about the validity of claims that man-made greenhouse gases increase global warming, even among some scientists, he says, while in England (Rough Guides are based in London) there was already wide acceptance of those theories. So he had to strike a balance between those two political environments when writing his book and be “as nonpolitical as you can be on this issue.”

Now, he says, the issue has become more polarized. The U.S. scientific community has, by and large, confirmed the effects of carbon and other gases on the environment, even though there are still many people who reject that view — often for political reasons.

“Basic science isn’t political,” Henson says. “How you respond is what is political.”

Now that there is sound evidence that “humans are warming the planet,” he explains, the discussion has turned to the question of how to respond to it, and he needs to reflect that shift in the new edition of his book.

“My hope in going to Copenhagen is to get a better handle on the global politics, from different perspectives around the world,” Henson says. “I’m going to listen, learn and talk to people. I want to get a sense of how people from other countries feel about the issue.”

As for lodging, Henson took advantage of New Life Copenhagen, a website set up for conference attendees to connect with Copenhagen residents willing to put them up in a spare bed. Henson, who found an available spare room thanks to the online service, calls the network “a huge couch-surfing operation.”

Henson says that if a binding international agreement is signed in the next year or so, it will represent a major political shift that sets a course for the years to come.

“The big question is whether that shift will occur before my deadline,” he says.

Carbon and deforestation

Julie Teel, a research fellow in the Center for Energy and Environmental Security (CEES) at the CU School of Law, will be attending COP15 with CEES Senior Research Fellow Kevin Doran. Doran is the lead coordinator for the Carbon Management Center of the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory, a joint project of CU, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado State University and the School of Mines.

She says she and Doran, who are both attorneys, study carbon capture. Doran’s specialty is geological sequestration — storing carbon deep underground — while her field is terrestrial sequestration, storing carbon above ground or along the surface.

In addition to representing the Collaboratory, Teel says she will be representing the interests of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). She explains that 15 percent to 20 percent of global carbon emissions come from deforestation, and since the Kyoto Protocol did not address that area sufficiently, it has become a top priority for any new agreement that arises from Copenhagen.

Teel says that the conference presents an opportunity to meet in person with partners in countries like Indonesia and Brazil, with whom correspondence is done typically by phone or e-mail.

“We’ll all be in one place, and that’s a rare opportunity,” she says.

CU School of Law Associate Professor William Boyd, who is also involved in REDD with Teel, says he is going to COP15 because he advises leaders in states and provinces in Brazil, Indonesia and the United States, specifically California, which has taken a lead in climate-change policy. He plans to meet with those government leaders and participate in a couple of side events to discuss his most recent work with those leaders.

Boyd specializes in legal and policy issues involved with carbon market design and compliance, including carbon credits and cap and trade. Key questions he explores include how carbon should be measured, and at what level — local, state/province or national. Boyd points out that one size does not fit all; different countries will likely have different goals in any international emissions-reduction agreement.

Boyd says it will be interesting to observe the political dynamics at the conference, such as the role played by the members of the U.S. Congress who attend, and the pressure that could be put on countries like India and China to commit to climate-change goals if other developing nations like Brazil really step up to the plate.

But international leaders agreed publicly last week that it is unrealistic to expect a signed agreement to come out of COP15. And Boyd agrees that there likely won’t be a signed international agreement until late 2010, at the earliest.

Other countries are waiting on the U.S., he says, but Congress is not expected to consider any climate-change legislation until the first half of 2010. If Congress hasn’t acted by June 2010, it may be too late and may have to wait until 2011, since climate change will probably be a hot-button issue in the mid-term election season, Boyd says.

Kevin Trenberth, head of NCAR’s Climate Analysis Section and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, told Boulder Weekly that he is not attending COP15 because it is not a scientific meeting.

Another prominent IPCC member, NOAA Senior Scientist Susan Solomon, does not plan to attend, either.

“I don’t think much will come out of Copenhagen,” Boyd says. “You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that.”

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