No final deal expected during summit, but Copenhagen draws plenty of interest

The climate change summit at Copenhagen, which starts this week, isn’t likely to end with a legally binding agreement to cut carbon dioxide emissions to curb global warming.

But that’s not keeping environmental advocates, manufacturers, clean tech executives and others from attending in hopes of influencing the negotiations, which may lead to a series of less far reaching political agreements among participating countries.

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“It’s better to have your voice heard now than waiting to later if the political framework is going to impact what a final agreement will look like,” said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a group of lawmakers, environmental advocates and corporate executives that support energy conservation efforts.

Callahan said a number of companies represented in the Alliance plan to attend the summit.

Stephen Eule, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s energy policy arm, called Copenhagen an “important way station” to a final global deal on climate change. The Chamber is sending Eule to continue to press businesses concerns about how a carbon cap could limit economic growth.

“It is a chance for business to get our message out to a large audience,” he said.


Energy lobbyists describe United Nations negotiations as sufficiently confusing and Byzantine as to make Congress seem efficient and straightforward by comparison. With a binding agreement unlikely, some industries are sitting it out. The coal industry seems to be largely skipping the event, even though it’s likely to be among the most impacted by a carbon cap.

For companies that operate in the United States, the main stage remains Congress, which will impose the rules under which they would have to comply and where specific earmarks to their particular benefit can be sought.

Still, interests like labor, energy efficiency advocates and companies of various stripes want to make sure the outline of a carbon cutting system covers their own interests.

Advocates for climate legislation in particular want to squeeze as much as possible out of Copenhagen to rebuild momentum here for a cap and trade bill.

The nine labor and environmental groups that make up the Blue-Green Alliance will send 35 to 40 people to Copenhagen to monitor the proceeding and promote “green” jobs.

David Foster, executive director of the Blue-Green Alliance, said one particular focus for labor is that negotiators address trade alongside emissions reductions. Labor advocates remain worried about “carbon leakage,” which happen when companies move operations to countries without a carbon cap. The group supports border adjustments, or a carbon tariff, on products produced in countries that don’t sign international global warming commitments.

That’s a central issue in Congress as well. Senators from industrial states are insisting on some type of trade protections, although free-trade advocates on Capitol Hill worry such provisions would start a trade war.

An international agreement on the issue could make the road to passage in Congress much easier, although it is a long shot for labor. China and India have spoken against such tariffs, and an existing U.N. policy framework draft says trade restrictions should not be part of a climate deal.

Unions also want countries prepare for the shift to a green economy, Foster said. The change will be a net positive, Foster believes, but workers in more traditional industries are bound to be displaced, and countries need to set aside sufficient resources to retrain them, he said.

“We’ll be doing a lot of work explaining our position to other people,” Foster said. 

The Sierra Club is sending a delegation of 50 activists, including senior staff and student advocates, said spokesman Josh Dorner.

It hopes U.S. delegates commit to cutting the greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide at rates higher than the 17 percent President Barack Obama has already pledged to curb CO2. The group also wants developed countries to commit to help developing countries cut carbon dioxide emissions and adapt to climate change already taking place, Dorner said.

“A lot can still happen” short of an overarching legally binding agreement, he said.

In addition to the negotiations among official delegates, Copenhagen will also function as a trade show where groups show off their wares to potential buyers, only in this case the products may be more educational opportunities about the right and wrong way to reduce emissions.

The Alliance to Save Energy is holding a “side event” from 1 to 5 p.m. on December 14 to showcase how energy efficiency programs can help countries meet their climate goals.

The alliance organized the event at the request of Lena Ek, a European parliament member from Sweden.

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Executives at Google, Honeywell, and Siemens are expected to talk at the event. Callahan said 60 invitees have already signed up in two days since invitations went out. Many of the officials who’ve RSVP’d are the equivalent of vice presidents of their countries.

Callahan said Ek had encouraged the group to hold the panel discussion to educate delegates on how energy efficiency efforts can help countries meet carbon reduction goals “without wreaking havoc on their economies.”

“The sentiment with respect to developing economies is you slow down growth and development when you keep emissions in check or begin reducing them,” Callahan said.

But that doesn’t have to be the case, she said. A climate agreement could be a boon to some Alliance members like chemical companies that make the products that make appliances or homes and businesses more energy efficient.

Eule of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy said the business group wants to maintain a dialogue among international companies that started in earnest in September at an event the group sponsored in Washington, D.C.

He said companies often have felt left out of the negotiating process on climate issues, but can be important players in a final overarching climate treaty.

“We have the expertise. We’ll be responsible for the financing, the next step in technological developments,” he said. “There are a number of issues that will have a direct impact on businesses. We can say, this doesn’t work, but this might.”