Under the Bus

Last night I hopped the wrong bus in Copenhagen despite all of the routes being clearly marked. It wasn’t until I recognized the windmill powering the Bella Center, site of COP15, the fifteenth United Nations Conference on Climate Change, that I realized I was headed the opposite direction of my hotel.

I was dropped off at the last stop before the bus headed back to the bus barn for the night. It was at that last stop I began to really think about what Hopenhagen, as the locals have deemed their city, really means. At nearly 1 am, I caught a bus to the metro, and the metro to a bus, and then walked through neatly shoveled sidewalks as huge flakes of snow floated down on Freidricksberg Alle.

Hopenhagen is an idea of what can happen in terms of battling climate change. In Denmark, citizens hope that the world’s nations can come to an agreement to work together toward a cleaner environment, sustainable energy and a decrease in carbon emissions. And the world can learn a lesson in sustainability from Copenhagen.

In Copenhagen, public transportation is a well laid plan, easily accessible and easily navigable. Orderly traffic moves quickly and free of traffic jams. Bus lanes line the outside of all the streets making it easy for buses to zoom to their designated stops every 10 minutes. Bike lanes line the outside of all the bus lanes and are raised and clearly identified. Bicyclists take full advantage of the lanes and are almost as numerous as cars on the street. Even far out on the city’s edge where I ended up late on a Wednesday night, sidewalks line the outside of all bike lanes.

In addition to convenient and energy-saving public transportation in Copenhagen, Denmark has over 5,000 windmills including the picturesque wind farm off the shores of Copenhagen and the aforementioned one powering the Bella Center. As the blades of that windmill turn to generate power to the Bella Center, however the negotiations of COP15 have almost ground to a halt.

COP15 is scheduled to end on Friday. It turns out that in the negotiations in which many hoped would ‘seal the deal,’ the framework of the deal hasn’t even been worked out. More specifically, the US and China are deadlocked in that both refuse to comply with an agreement the other won’t comply with. The US is asking China to agree to cut emissions and be bound to an international treaty (even though the US failed to ratify the previous Kyoto Protocol). And China is insisting that the US had its chance to industrialize without carbon emissions restrictions and now China wants its turn.

Furthermore, developing nations are frustrated with developed nations most notably the US, the world’s formerly biggest carbon emitter (now number two after China by most records) is refusing to ‘pay its climate debt.’ Iran is using the lack of agreement to justify a nuclear power program that developed nations are certain is a thin disguise for a nuclear arms program. The EU, Japan and Australia have pledged significant carbon reductions but would commit to doing more if the US jumps on board. But the outlook is grim.

Throughout Copenhagen, slogans like “The time is now for action” are slapped on metro cars, enormous displays calling for climate change action mark nearly every public square, Denmark’s president has taken over from the special envoy appointed to the Conference. In a city that has set such a wonderful example of combating climate change, where there was such a feeling of hope for a binding treaty at COP15, it seems now that those feelings of hope may be thrown under the public bus.

Andrea Niehaus, Co-Director, Iowa UNA

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