Copenhagen Coverage

December 11, 2009 | Yael Borofsky,

Anticipated as an opportunity to take unified action against climate change, the climate negotiations in Copenhagen have amounted to nothing more than a postmodern, self-congratulatory global event in which much is promised, but nothing meaningful is accomplished. With an apocalyptic narrative serving as the motivational undercurrent, delegates are focused on empty emissions reductions targets they have no strategy to meet and are distracted from the most important challenge in the effort to mitigate climate change: sustainable global development.

Meeting the global energy challenge does not require empty promises, but instead massive government investment in the clean energy technologies that will transform our global energy system by making clean energy cheap and abundant for developed and developing nations, alike.

What follows is the Breakthrough Institute's coverage of the climate talks in Copenhagen. Understanding why this world effort failed will be the first step in fomenting an internationally tenable plan to put the world on a low-carbon path and ensure clean, cheap, accessible energy on a global scale.

Understanding the Climate Negotiations in Copenhagen

"Contrivance in Copenhagen" (12/10/2009): Shellenberger and Nordhaus explain why everything taking place in Copenhagen is contrived. The outcome of climate talks -- no treaty, no emissions reductions -- was known in advance even as participants pretend there is an unfolding drama. As history's first completely postmodern global event, Copenhagen tells us more about ourselves -- our post-American world, our fragmented media environment, and our hyper-partisanship -- than about any attempt to slow global warming.

Part II: Climate Realpolitik and the End of Postcolonialism (12/18/09): Nordhaus and Shellenberger follow up their assessment of the "contrivance in Copenhagen" by narrating the demise of the UNFCCC framework and the rise of Climate Realpolitik, in which climate policy will be treated as a question of technology and economics, not religious mania, nostalgia, and ideological posturing.

"Thoughts on Ending Energy Poverty and Copenhagen's Zero-Sum Game" (12/11/2009): Highlighting a post by Nathan Wyeth from, Jesse Jenkins explains why focusing global treaty negotiations on shared support for sustainable global development, rather than emissions cuts, could lead to the development and deployment of clean, cheap, accessible technologies at a global scale and a successful effort to stabilize the climate.

"TIME: Technology, Not Targets, Are What Matters Most in Copenhagen" (12/9/2009): TIME's Bryan Walsh cites recent Breakthrough coverage of climate negotiations in Copenhagen and the energy challenge, to explain why addressing the global clean technology is the crux of the matter in Copenhagen and why an international treaty should center on the investments in clean energy innovation that will make clean energy cheap.

"Climate Negotiators in Copenhagen Can Save the World?" (12/9/2009): Despite the self-congratulatory tone of the film that opened the Copenhagen climate negotiations, it comes off as strikingly narcissistic given the talks' focus on empty promises, instead of a strategic plan to spur a global clean energy revolution.

"Empty Targets: Do Copenhagen Emissions Commitments Have Any Integrity?" (12/9/2009): A look at the "bold commitments" made by major international players shows that these emissions targets paved the way for delegates to make empty promises that lack the integrity to truly build a low-carbon global energy system and mitigate climate change.

"$10.5 trillion by 2030: The Number that Should be at the Heart of Copenhagen Climate Talks" (12/7/2009): Forget 80% by 2050 and 450ppm and other emissions reductions targets and timetables, say Jesse Jenkins and Devon Swezey. Highlighting a level of investment suggested by the International Energy Agency, the pair explains why Copenhagen will fail if delegates do not focus on closing the massive clean technology investment gap and thus bring about a much-needed clean energy revolution.

"NYTimes Gets "Lessons from Kyoto" Right" (12/7/2009): A New York Times info-graphic clearly illustrates some under-reported "Lessons from Kyoto": economic trajectories, and little else, determined emissions outcomes under the targets and timetables focused Kyoto Protocol. Jesse Jenkins explains why a proactive and massive shared global effort to sever economic growth from emissions by accelerating clean technology innovation and deployment must supplant Kyoto as the dominant framework in Copenhagen.

"Nature: Technology-Led Policy Needed For Climate Success in Copenhagen and Beyond" (12/4/2009): A Nature article by Breakthrough Senior Fellow Christopher Green and co-author Isabel Galiana explains why a technology-led policy is the best way to achieve climate stabilization and catalyze the transition to a future fueled by clean energy technology.

"Climate Conundrum Continues in Run-Up to Copenhagen" (12/3/2009): Global trade issues present a climate conundrum for the U.S. as it juggles its climate negotiations in Copenhagen, particularly with developing nations like China and India, and an un-passed and highly contentious climate and energy bill winding its way through the Senate.

"China's Carbon Intensity Pledge" (12/1/2009): Crossposted from Breakthrough Senior Fellow Roger Pielke, Jr.'s blog, Pielke analyzes China's carbon intensity pledge, explaining the nuances behind a target that appears to be nothing more than consistent with business-as-usual.

The End of "Developing Countries" (12/14/2009): The notion that there are just two types of countries - developed and developing - is falling apart. As large "developing" nations like China rapidly increase their emissions and grow their economies, the old UNFCCC assumptions about who should bear the responsibility of mitigating climate change are crumbling and the concept of "developing countries" is becoming irrelevant.

Obama Announces Climate Deal, UNFCCC Crumbles? (12/18/09): In a press conference at the close of the climate negotiations in Copenhagen, President Obama declared that a "meaningful deal" had been reached moments before returning to the U.S., leaving the final structure of accord still in question. The implications of President Obama's speech left little doubt that the UNFCCC process is dead, but whether it continues to inform climate action is yet to be determined.

The Copenhagen Spin from Around the Climatesphere (12/18/09): A collection of press releases in to the whirlwind of drama that unfolded in the 11th hour of the climate negotiations in Copenhagen. Voices from across the climatesphere were quick to report on the outcome, adding their own perspective (read: spin) on the events.

Open Letter to Bill McKibben: Blaming Obama for Copenhagen Is Wrong (12/19/09): Cross-posted from It's Getting Hot in Here Breakthrough Senior Advisor Teryn Norris responds to co-founder Bill McKibben's accusatory assessment of the outcome of Cop15 by pointing out that laying blame obscures the fact that the UNFCCC framework and the Kyoto Protocol are what really failed to produce meaningful climate action.

Newsweek: Copenhagen R.I.P (12/21/2009): In a piece for Newsweek, Sharon Begley declares "Good Riddance to Copenhagen" and announces the death of the UNFCCC, making a strong case for Climate Realpolitik.