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Climate Countdown: Largest Climate Summit in World History Opens in Copenhagen

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Democracy Now! broadcasts live from Copenhagen from inside the Bella Center, where thousands of delegates from over 190 countries are gathering for the largest climate summit in history. Over the next two weeks, 100 world leaders are expected to attend the UN conference that has been described by some scientists as the most important the world has ever seen. We play highlights from the opening ceremony with the mayor of Copenhagen, Ritt Bjerregaard; Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; and Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, speaking on Sunday. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re inside the Bella Center, where thousands of delegates from over 190 countries are gathering for the largest climate summit in history. Over the next two weeks, a hundred world leaders are expected to attend the UN conference that’s been described by some scientists as the most important the world has ever seen.

To stress the significance of the summit, fifty-six newspapers in forty-five countries are taking the unprecedented step of publishing the same editorial today. The editorial reads, quote, “Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security…Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days,” as goes the editorial.

Environmentalists have warned current greenhouse gas emissions commitments are dangerously short of what UN scientists have said are needed to keep average temperatures from rising more than two degrees Centigrade. But even before the conference began, the hopes of reaching a binding agreement on emissions were abandoned. UN negotiators have said they are looking to achieve an interim pact in Copenhagen with more negotiations for a possible binding agreement next year.

Well, today is the opening day of the summit, and Democracy Now! is the only daily global TV, radio news hour broadcasting from right here inside the Bella Center for the next two weeks, bringing you this exclusive coverage from inside the conference with delegates and organizers, from outside on the streets where thousands of activists are converging to call for real solutions to combat global warming. As one sign outside the Bella Center said, “Politicians talk. Leaders act.”

The summit opened this morning with a welcoming ceremony. It began with an address by the Prime Minister of Denmark, Lars Lokke Rasmussen. He was followed by the mayor of Copenhagen, Ritt Bjerregaard.

    RITT BJERREGAARD: We have a vision, a goal, in fact, to be the first carbon-neutral capital in the world by 2025. This is surely a great challenge. We have fifty specific initiatives to achieve the city’s targets of a 20 percent reduction in CO2 emissions in the period 2005 to 2015. But Copenhagen is on its way. Ninety-seven percent of all households in Copenhagen have district heating. Nearly 50 percent of the citizens of Copenhagen ride their bike every day. In Copenhagen, the harbor is so clean that you can even swim in it, although it might be too cold just now.

AMY GOODMAN: The next speaker of the welcoming ceremony was Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The group was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Pachauri warned of the dangers of unmitigated global warming.

    RAJENDRA PACHAURI: In the twentieth century, average global temperature increased by 0.74 degrees Celsius, while sea level rise resulting from thermal expansion of the ocean and melting of ice across the globe amounted to seventeen centimeters. With this increase, the Maldive Islands, several other small island states, and low-lying coastal nations like Bangladesh, with land surface barely a meter or two above sea level, would find that every storm surge and major upwelling of the seas represents a serious danger to life and property. The global community thus has a moral and material responsibility to do all it can to limit the growing impacts of climate change on these and other vulnerable societies across the globe.

    Indeed, we need to give practical expression to the provisions of Article 2 of the UNFCCC, which defines the ultimate objective of the convention as the achievement of — and I quote — “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system,” end of quote.

    On the basis of the AR4, we know that climate change, in the absence of mitigation policies, would in all likelihood lead to, one, possible disappearance of sea ice by the latter part of the twenty-first century; two, increase in frequency of hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation; three, increase in tropical cyclone intensity; four, decrease in water resources due to climate change in many semi-arid areas, such as the Mediterranean basin, western United States, southern Africa and northeastern Brazil; five, possible elimination of the Greenland ice sheet and a resulting contribution to sea level rise of about seven meters — without mitigation, future temperatures in Greenland would compare with levels estimated 425,000 years ago, when paleoclimate information suggests four to six meters of sea level rise; six, approximately 20 to 30 percent of species assessed so far being at increased risk of extinction, if increases in global average warming exceed 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius.

    May I mention that climate change is expected to exacerbate current stresses on water resources from population growth and economic and land use change, including urbanization? Available research suggests a significant future increase in heavy rainfall events in many regions, including some in which the mean rainfall is projected to decrease. The resulting flood risk poses challenges to society, physical infrastructure and water quality. It is likely that 20 percent of the world population, which, as a fraction, could exceed two billion people, will live in areas where river flood potential could increase by the 2080s. In Africa, by 2020 between 75 and 250 million people are projected to be exposed to water stress due to climate change. And in some countries on that continent, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 percent.

    Another area facing serious impacts of climate change are the oceans, where the uptake of anthropogenic carbon since 1750 has led to the ocean becoming more acidic, with an average decrease in pH of 0.1 units. Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations lead to further acidification, the consequences of which could be serious for all forms of marine organisms.

AMY GOODMAN: Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, speaking here in the Bella Center in Copenhagen at the opening ceremony of the climate summit.

Yvo de Boer was the final speaker of the morning, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. On Sunday, de Boer spoke at a curtain raiser news conference, where he stressed the urgency of combating global warming.

    YVO DE BOER: Time is up. Over the next two weeks, governments have to deliver a strong and long-term response to the challenge of climate change.

    And in doing so, I see them delivering on three layers of action: first of all, fast and effective implementation right away, without delay, on adaptation, on technology, on capacity building in developing countries; secondly, ambitious commitments to cut or limit emissions, as well as startup financing for developing countries and a long-term funding commitment; and third, a long-term shared vision on a low emission future for all. It’s on those three levels that governments must deliver an ambitious response to climate change over the next two weeks.

    I believe that negotiators now have the clearest signal ever from world leaders to craft a solid set of proposals to implement rapid action. And never in the seventeen years of climate change negotiations have so many different nations made so many firm pledges together. Almost every day now, countries announce new targets or plans of action to cut emissions. It’s simply unprecedented. I know two things for sure: first, there will be many more steps on the road to a safe climate future, but also few turning points; and Copenhagen must be such a turning point.

AMY GOODMAN: Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN climate change summit. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, in this exclusive daily global broadcast from inside the Bella Center at the Copenhagen summit.

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