New Warnings and More Debates on Day Two of Copenhagen

BY Murrey Jacobson  December 8, 2009 at 11:56 PM EST

It’s Day Two of the big climate change summit in Copenhagen and if some of today’s headlines tell you nothing else, it should convey both the difficulty of getting something significant done in the next two weeks and the growing pressure to do so — despite considerable odds.

Two big stories have dominated the day so far: A new study showing that this decade was the warmest in at least 150 years, which will add new fuel to the urgency of reducing emissions; and a scolding of sorts from China to the U.S. and other countries about what it sees as rather unambitious goals.

The question of global heating remains very much on the minds of many attending the Copenhagen meeting — particularly because of the recent flap over stolen e-mails.

What also proving surprising is some of the debate provoked by climate scientist James Hansen this week. Hansen, who has always been a leading and strong voice on the need to take more serious action to reduce emissions, has made it clear that he is worried nothing serious will get done in Copenhagen.

Yesterday, he wrote an op-ed in the New York Times sharply criticizing the idea of a so-called cap-and-trade policy, one that has been favored by many politicians and some leading thinkers in the green community. He wrote that current bills in Congress would “only assure continued coal use, making it implausible that carbon dioxide emissions would decline sharply.”

New York Times columnist and economics professor Paul Krugman — who is on our program Tuesday night to talk about job creation — wrote on his blog that he thought Hansen was wrong and said he “hasn’t made any effort to understand the economics of emissions control.”

“Let’s face it,” Krugman writes, cap-and trade is “the only form of action against greenhouse gas emissions we have any chance of taking before catastrophe becomes inevitable.

Meanwhile, a senior Chinese official at the Copenhagen talks, took a shot at emission cuts plans as laid out by the U.S., Europe and Japan. With China poised to pass the U.S. as the world’s biggest polluter (it’s already won the distinction of being the fastest-growing one), some might wonder about the kettle calling the pot black. When China announced its intention last week to curb its projected emission rates by 40 percent by 2020, experts in the U.S. said China’s plan was not ambitious enough given how much its emission were projected to rise.

Today the official, Su Wei, responded by saying the U.S. offer “cannot be regarded as remarkable or notable.” That said, many observers predicted before the conference even began that there would be a certain amount of posturing by many of the leading players. Today’s remarks play into that and the real action and possible compromises are more likely to emerge next week.

We’ll keep updating the latest from [Copenhagen]( here on our Web site. And next week, Ray Suarez heads to the summit to provide reports on the negotiations.