BARCELONA — A crucial round of climate change talks are underway in Spain, with a singular message shared widely among United Nations delegates: get ready to deliver big in Copenhagen.
Just four weeks away, the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference—known officially as COP 15—is viewed by many as a decisive moment. Will the world's nations act together to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change, or will international division produce inaction and halt the glacial pace of progress made thus far?
Observers see the Barcelona Climate Change Talks as the most accurate barometer for success in Copenhagen, and Connie Hedegaard, a Danish environmental minister and president of the COP 15, as the person most responsible for guiding an international consensus.
Asked after her opening remarks how a political declaration would actually help reduce carbon emissions, Hedegaard emphasized the need for any agreement to be specific and legally binding. For international law to be truly binding, however, it must meet the approval of world's most influential nations. On the matter of climate change, the United States is both indispensable and reluctant, representing the one nation that could make or break a global deal.
On the opening day of the Barcelona talks, Hedegaard took a conciliatory tone toward the US, which effectively killed the Kyoto Protocol when it refused to ratify the international climate change treaty in 1997. Critics of the decision say a decade of action on climate change was lost as a result.
Hedegaard emphasized, however, said she has not given up on the US.
“We have always been able to count on the US during world crises, whether in World War II or the Cold War, and I have not given up hope that the US will deliver binding targets on emissions,” she said.
At one moment, Hedegaard referred to President Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize as evidence for America's renewed moral authority. "How can Obama win the Peace Prize and at the same time send an empty-handed delegation to Copenhagen?" she asked.
No matter President Obama's aspirations, however, a credible American voice regarding climate change depends equally on the Congress, where Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are currently seeking support for a climate change bill.
Hedegaard also emphasized that by signing onto international climate change agreements, America is acting in its own interest, moving the direction of energy independence and a new clean energy industry.