Sustainable Washington

Copenhagen Synthesis Report

Key Messages from the 2009 Copenhagen Synthesis Report

In December 2009, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet in Copenhagen to begin negotiations to update the Kyoto Protocols. In March 2009, the International Alliance of Research Universities held an international congress on climate change to update the science presented in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. The results of that congress are presented in the Synthesis Report from Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges, and Decisions. The authors of the report communicated the newest understanding of climate change, the social and environmental implications of this change, and the options for society’s response through six key messages, paraphrased below:

  • 1 – Climatic Trends. Recent observations show that greenhouse gas emissions and many aspects of climate are changing near the upper boundary of the IPCC range of projections … with unabated emissions, many trends in climate will likely accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.
  • 2 – Social and Environmental Disruption. Recent observations show that societies and ecosystems are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change … temperature rises above 2°C will be difficult for contemporary societies to cope with, and are likely to cause major societal and environmental disruptions through the rest of the century and beyond.
  • 3 – Long-Term Strategy: Global Targets and Timetables. Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation based on coordinated global and regional action is required to avoid “dangerous climate change” regardless of how it is defined. Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of serious impacts, including the crossing of tipping points, and make the task of meeting 2050 targets more difficult and costly. Setting a credible long-term price for carbon and the adoption of policies that promote energy efficiency and low carbon technologies are central to effective mitigation.
  • 4 – Equity Dimensions. Climate change is having, and will have, strongly differential effects on people within and between countries and regions, on this generation and future generations … (A)n effective, well-funded adaptation safety net is required … and equitable mitigation strategies are needed to protect the poor and most vulnerable…
  • 5 – Inaction is Inexcusable. Society already has many tools and approaches – economic, technological, behavioral, and managerial – to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. If these tools are not vigorously and widely implemented, adaptation to the unavoidable climate change and the societal transformation required to decarbonize economies will not be achieved.
  • 6 – Meeting the Challenge. … significant constraints must be overcome and critical opportunities seized … reducing inertia in social and economic systems, building on a growing desire for governments to act … linking climate change with broader sustainable consumption concerns, human rights issues, and democratic values is crucial for shifting societies towards more sustainable development pathways.

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