As delegates from 192 countries descended on Copenhagen for the start of the United Nations climate treaty talks today, the general mood seems to have turned decidedly upbeat. After downplaying the chances for a binding agreement at the international confab in recent weeks, today’s media coverage swung in the other direction, with references to “Hopenhagen” alongside headlines like “Obama’s timing boosts hope for major deal on emissions” and “Hopes increase for a credible climate deal.”
The cautious optimism reflected the announcements by the U.S., China, and other nations of preliminary plans for cutting back carbon emissions, and President Obama deciding to join more than 100 other heads of state at the conclusion of the two-week conference, “a signal that the agreement was getting closer,” wrote the Associated Press’s Arthur Max. The original goal of the conference was to produce a binding international agreement to drastically reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions. Most delegates now acknowledge that the meeting will produce only a framework and that a formal agreement will have to wait until next year. U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer pushed hard for governments to dig deeper in their pockets and deliver bigger financial pledges to help poorer countries adapt: “Time is up,” he said.
Meanwhile, the media issued a mind-boggling array of opening stories—and strong commentary—on what’s at stake in Copenhagen. A front-page story in the influential Financial Times trumpeted a new analysis by U.K. economist Nicholas Stern that government pledges on greenhouse gases “would be almost enough to reduce emissions to levels that would hold global temperature rises to no more than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.” The Wall Street Journal today published a twelve-page special report with its own take on a range of issues, from “who’s going to pay” to “who wants what in Copenhagen.”
Nonetheless, the lengthening shadow of “Climategate” hangs over the summit. Over the weekend, New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt responded to charges that the paper was “mishandling” the story and that its environment reporter, Andrew Revkin, “has a conflict of interest because he wrote or is mentioned in some of the e-mail messages that the University of East Anglia says were stolen.” Hoyt dismissed both arguments, concluding that the hacked e-mails are not a “three-alarm story” and the Times has covered them “appropriately.” On Monday, the paper published its second front-page article about the controversy, under the headline “In Face of Skeptics, Experts Affirm Climate Peril.” The piece reported that there is widespread agreement that “the premise [manmade global warming] underlying the Copenhagen talks is solid.”
Newspapers worldwide are pushing for strong action. In what the BBC called an “unprecedented display of uniformity,” fifty-six newspapers in forty-five countries carried the same editorial in twenty languages, urging world leaders to forge an agreement. “The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it,” the editorial stated. “We implore them to make the right choice.” The Guardian, which made climate coverage one of its priorities, took the lead in coordinating the editorial; the paper’s deputy editor, Ian Katz, published a fascinating and detailed account of the process on Sunday:
“Given that newspapers are inherently rivalrous, proud and disputatious, viewing the world through very different national and political prisms, the prospect of getting a sizeable cross-section of them to sign up to a single text on such a momentous and divisive issue seemed like a long shot,” Katz wrote. Over the course of numerous drafts, however, the Guardian was able to resolve various concerns: “[O]ur Polish colleagues wanted an acknowledgment that poorer new EU countries should not have to bear as much of the coming burden as ‘Old Europe’; our Indian partner suggested that the argument reflected a “lopsided” developed world perspective and needed to say more about what the rich world must do; a Chinese editor wanted to flag the importance of addressing “exported” emissions – those created by the rich world increasingly consuming goods manufactured in developing countries.”