Copenhagen Touchdown

7:00 a.m. Touch down in Copenhagen. It’s pitch black, and people getting off the airplane are donning puffy winter jackets with fur-lined hoods. It’s a far cry from the balmy temperatures I left behind in Washington, DC. I’m groggy and grumpy from the overnight flight — little sleep, more than enough infant screaming and thrashing about.

So I was surprised to feel an upwelling of excitement as I entered Denmark’s passport control. Standing there welcoming us to Copenhagen was a fleet of volunteers, with crisp black slacks and smart white T-shirts, the ubiquitous COP15 sphere on the breast pocket (some kind of cross between modern chicken wire artwork and a spun cotton-candy globe). Participants of the UN climate talks were waved into a special line by more COP chaperones to expedite paperwork processing. Down by baggage claim another pair of volunteers who showed me how to catch the airport train to Central Station explained that the Danish government hired droves of young helpers to aid in making sure the climate talks run smoothly over the next two weeks. Thanks for the help, Denmark — and the free pass for transport over the next two weeks. (The darker side of Copenhagen’s open-armed welcome is a law passed last week allowing police to stop people preemptively who look like they might be planning to cause trouble. Thanks for nothing, Denmark.)

It’s difficult to believe that I’m finally in Copenhagen. For almost a year thousands of people that care about the climate — because their survival depends on it, because their bottom line depends on it, because a new global movement must be born to deal with it — have been preparing for this meeting. Rather than a place on the map, many people had come to see Copenhagen as a moment in time that would define the future of the planet — sink under rising waters or swim. But it’s become very clear as 2009 has progressed that the UN climate talks beginning Monday will, at best, set guidelines to negotiate a real deal over the next year.

That being said, there are still some important outcomes that communities and the climate justice movement are calling for.

Keep the Kyoto Protocol! Contrary to popular belief, the Kyoto Protocol does not die in 2012. Developed countries (except, of course, the U.S.) have promised that they will put a bigger and better overall cuts in their emissions down on paper, and divvy up the responsibility between them all.

I don’t love the Kyoto Protocol. In fact, I hate the carbon trading provisions like the clean development mechanism (CDM), which allows rich country corporations to outsource their responsibility for reducing emissions to the developing world. But I do recognize that this is the treaty that exists to regulate greenhouse gases right now. A renegotiation of the Kyoto Protocol would likely lead to a dumbing-down of targets and an attempt to make developing countries take on binding targets. And I can’t see any reason to ask countries with low per-capita income levels and carbon footprints to sign onto targets until countries like the U.S. produce a few year’s worth of evidence that they are willing to significantly reduce emissions.

Put cash on the table now — and in the long term! Developed countries are going to try to pull a sleight of hand here in Copenhagen. A proposal from the U.S., EU and Japan is taking shape to put $10 billion in short-term financing in the pockets of developing countries. But most climate justice groups are seeing this as an attempt to buy support from the most affected — and most desperate — countries for a climate deal with low ambition. This backhanded move has the potential to pit the least developed countries and small island developing states against emerging economies like India and China, and splinter the heretofore unified call from the G77+China negotiating block (that represents more than 130 developing countries) that rich countries must deliver tens of millions, if not billions, of dollars now, up to and after 2012. And this money can’t be just repackaged development aid channeled through donor-run institutions like the World Bank. Instead, the world needs a new global climate fund under the authority of all of the parties to the UN climate convention.

Protect forests and the right of the people who depend on them! Of all the controversial aspects of the climate talks — targets, money, technology, etc — reducing emissions from deforestation is the issue that may have the most forward momentum at this meeting. That could be a good thing, if it’s framed as forest protection, and means that global leaders explicitly recognize the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the enshrined principle of free, prior and informed consent by indigenous and forest dependent communities for any activities that impact their lands, livelihoods or cultures. Without clear protection of human and indigenous peoples’ rights, forest protection schemes have lost the race to halt deforestation before they’ve left the gate.

So while I may have forgotten my business cards, my toothbrush, and my long underwear, I’ve remembered that even though the UN climate talks in Copenhagen aren’t going to save the world from global warming, the climate justice movement that we’re building here and across the planet just might.

Janet Redman is co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies.