News Release

U of M Crookston's Dan Svedarsky Attends U.N. Conference on Climate Change

By asvec on
Friday, December 18, 2009

Maathai+Svedarsky-webedit.jpgDan Svedarsky, Ph.D., professor, wildlife biologist, and director of the Center for Sustainability at the University of Minnesota, Crookston, recently returned from Copenhagen, Denmark, where he represented the 8,000-member The Wildlife Society as an official observer at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change.  He took part in the conference from December 7 through 14.

The U.N. Conference on Climate Change, which just concluded at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, may be one of the most significant environmental gatherings of our time.  Noted climatologists and a majority of the world's scientists believe that current rates of greenhouse gas emissions (notably carbon dioxide) from fossil fuel use and land use changes could cause climate warming accelerations that may jeopardize food production and human habitation in many low-lying areas of the world.  If predictive climate models are correct, two billion people who work with their hands to feed their families in those areas would potentially be affected first.  Plant and wildlife species may already be feeling effects, and wildlife biologists are planning strategies to mitigate these changes. 

"The conference was one of the most incredible gatherings that I've ever attended," said Svedarsky.  "There was such a diversity of disciplines, occupations, and cultures represented." Estimated official attendance was over 25,000 with more than 110 heads of state from different corners of the world present, including Nobel Peace Prize winners Wangari Maathai, Al Gore, and President Barack Obama.  During the conference Svedarsky had the opportunity to meet Wangari Maathai at the Danish Film Institute, where the film "Taking Root," a profile of her life, was screened.  Maathai earned her B.S. from Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas; her M.S. from the University of Pittsburgh; and her Ph.D. from the University of Nairobi.  She is the founder of the Green Belt Movement as well as the goodwill ambassador for the Congo Basin Rainforest Ecosystem. In 2004 she was the first to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for environmental achievements. 

A key focus of the conference was to revise the Kyoto Protocol, which called for nations of the world to strive and reduce carbon dioxide levels.  According to Svedarsky, "There were many first-hand accounts of climate change effects detailed at the meeting as well as premiere screenings of documentary films.  Two major plenary session meeting halls--about the size of a football field--were set up for sessions involving governmental officials, representatives of non-governmental organizations, and media personnel."  Numerous smaller meeting sessions were underway as groups refined position statements to present in larger sessions.

There were also several protests and demonstrations by entities wishing "a more dramatic expression of their views," Svedarsky added.  "To be sure, there are points of view in the larger debate based on science, politics, and anecdotal observations, but the evidence is irrefutable that climates are indeed changing.  Not so clear is the precise effect that man's activities are having.  We know that rising temperatures are correlated with rising carbon dioxide levels and that fossil fuel combustion adds to these levels.  It would seem prudent in this global experiment to minimize combustion and the generation of associated greenhouse gases, as well as vigorously accelerating the pace of generating renewable energy."

The U.S. peaked in the production of domestic fossil fuels in the early 1970s, and a world-wide peak is predicted in 2010-2015.  The most accessible resources were the first to be extracted. "So if we do not find alternatives to fossil fuels, dramatically conserve energy, and implement vigorous carbon management now, then when?" asks Svedarsky. 

It was fitting that Denmark  would  host a conference of this sort, noted Svedarsky, since the country is a world leader in the production of renewable energy, especially in using wind turbines and biofuels and in using a comprehensive systems  approach to sustainable development.  The design of mass transit systems and other alternatives for people movement rather than automobiles is exemplary. 

Numerous related sessions were staged in Copenhagen and in nearby Malmo, Sweden, connected by the Oresund Bridge.  Malmo prides itself as one of the most sustainable cities in the world and the city has decoupled economic development from energy use, growing its economy while decreasing carbon emissions.

More information about the conference is available online at en.cop15.dk.

Photo caption:  Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai with U of M, Crookston Professor Dan Svedarsky at the Danish Film Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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