What Can Be Accomplished from the Copenhagen Conference?

December 09, 2009
Reprinted from the Los Angeles Times

by Prof. David Roland-Holst

Because it respects no borders, the atmosphere is the ultimate public resource. Yet until now, air quality and climate have been thought of as matters of only local or national interest. That is changing. We now know that all of our striving for prosperity is altering the climate.

As a result, the reconciliation of economic and environmental aspirations will become the defining challenge of our generation and the next. Copenhagen won't deliver a binding climate treaty, but it must nevertheless affirm for all humanity the importance of sharing responsibility for sustained progress. Just as the 1944 conference at Bretton Woods, N.H., succeeded because it established a framework for international economic cooperation, Copenhagen will succeed if nations explicitly acknowledge both their shared interests and the need to fundamentally change behavior.

A clear message like this will change not only the policy dialogue but will arouse the vast private resources needed to discover, develop and deliver climate solutions. The Industrial Revolution improved living standards for some beyond the imagining of their ancestors, yet more than half of humanity still lives on less than $2 a day. We cannot deny others the same material aspirations we have already achieved, but the legacy of carbon emissions that accompanied past progress is unsustainable for all of us. To keep alive the hope for a larger and ever more inclusive world economy, Copenhagen must articulate a global challenge for innovation, innovation in resource use, institutions, social awareness and -- ultimately -- in the ethical responsibility to share prosperity with others, including our own children and grandchildren.