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Climate Change Congress: from art to gloom

By Liz Kalaugher

The Danish passion for design came to the fore at the
Climate Change Congress opening session this morning. Not only was there an
unusually artistic backdrop at the front of the hall – a massive cut-out
version of the conference iceberg logo – but around 2500 delegates, including
Danish royalty, were also entertained with some virtuoso recorder playing.

 Once the conference kicked off for real, however, the
outlook was more bleak. A wide range of climate and other scientists have come
together to discuss their discoveries since the IPCC report of 2007. Because of
the way that report was produced, that means any results from the last 4-5
years. In a nutshell, the news is not good.

 Carbon emissions are now at the upper bound of those
projected by the IPCC, sea level rise could well top one metre by the end of
the century, and it appears that tropical forest carbon sinks are likely to
decline as the planet warms, to name just a few.

“The good news is in the social sciences and the
human sciences,” said Katherine Richardson of the University of Copenhagen
and chair of the conference scientific steering committee. “In those
fields you will find we have a lot of tools in our toolbox, things we can do

 For once, the credit crunch is arguably good news as it’s
likely to see a slowdown in world carbon emissions. Although, according to
Terry Barker of the University of Cambridge, it could also lead to a collapse
of the European emissions trading scheme as declining demand for electricity
leads to a plummeting price for emissions credits.

 “Politicians have refocused on jobs because of the
economic crisis,” said John Ashton of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth
Office. “If we want a successful response to climate change we have to
reframe it in terms of jobs. We need to build the prospect of a low carbon

 The plan is for the output from the conference to feed
into the climate negotiations for the follow-on treaty to the Kyoto Protocol to
be held in the same venue in December. “We are looking for things to
happen from this conference, not just more talk,” said Ian Chubb of
Australian National University

 With that in mind, organizers will produce a 30 page long
synthesis report by June 1st while next year will see the release of a book.
What’s more, at the conference closing ceremony on Thursday, Danish prime
minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen will receive a summary of a handful of key
results presented at the event. He’ll then discuss these with a panel of
leading researchers, including Dan Kammen of the University of California,
Berkeley, and Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics and Political
Science. Watch this space for more.

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