The global roving cocktail party known as the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) opens today in Copenhagen. Already, I'm sure, there have been several earnest speeches about the need for someone - probably the US and/or China - to do this or that. As the politicians make speeches, lobbyists from various interest groups, including both corporate and environmental organizations, roam the halls pressing the flesh in pursuit of their own agendas. Groups both mainstream and fringe hold their own "side events" to publicize products and perspectives.
The tone of that previous paragraph was flippant and cynical. I don't mean to minimize the potential importance of the Copenhagen meetings, or any particular set of meetings on climate change. But most of the real work is done behind the scenes between meetings. And we already know that the pre-Copenhagen negotiations have been, more or less, a failure. The initial goal was for the COP to sign a new Protocol to the UNFCCC, to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012. That will not happen. Instead, what we may get (if we're lucky) is a "framework" for agreement on a new Protocol to be signed next year in Mexico City (the next big meeting of the roving cocktail party). In addition, the US will repeat the promises President Obama made last week (about which I posted here). China will repeat the promises it made last week (about which I posted here). Europe will push, vainly, for greater emissions reduction commitments from both the US and China and for more developed country funding for developing country adaptation and mitigation. Both of those calls will likely fall on deaf ears.
When Copenhagen ends, the international community will still be in pretty much the same situation it is in today: a surplus of expressions of good intent, combined with mostly insufficient targets (except in the EU), and grossly underdeveloped institutions for achieving those targets.