Ironically, Climate Talks Enlarge Carbon Footprint

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World leaders are nearing the end of the climate meeting in Copenhagen. President Obama arrives Friday. There's a certain irony to the talks aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By just having the summit — all the airplane flights, hotel rooms and taxi rides — generates a lot of carbon.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


I'm Renee Montagne. And, Steve, we should say this up front: This next report hits a target that's almost too easy. World leaders are nearing the end of a climate meeting in Copenhagen. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is there today. President Obama arrives tomorrow.

INSKEEP: And talks are deadlocked over how to reduce pollution linked to global warming, yet we can be sure of one thing: All those world leaders with their jets and motorcades generate an awful lot of carbon. If you want to enlarge your carbon footprint, one sure way is to hold a summit intended to reduce it.

MONTAGNE: Our Planet Money correspondent David Kestenbaum is in Copenhagen. He has been asking just how much carbon the meeting will produce.

DAVID KESTENBAUM: If you've had this thought, you are not the first. Before this conference the Danish government got questions, sort of like this one.

Mr. JAN-CHRISTOPH NAPIERSKI (Spokesman for Danish Government): Right. You're organizing a climate conference, and all these people are flying to Copenhagen, and furthermore, they're taking the big cars from the airport to the conference site. This is crazy.

KESTENBAUM: Meet Jan-Christoph Napierski. He's with the Danish government, and he's been deployed fulltime at the talks to field these questions. There's really no way around it, he says. Negotiators have been working on a treaty for 17 years. A climate treaty is obviously not something that can be resolved on the phone or by email. So, every year, there's this huge get together. The conference center here is gigantic. Napierski says it's about half mile from one corner to the other. It's like an indoor city, and heating it generates greenhouse gases.

Mr. NAPIERSKI: We tried, actually, to save a bit of energy by keeping temperature low, but then a lot of delegates from the southern countries told us that they were freezing, and we had to, well, give it a bit more heat. Then some other delegates from northern countries thought that it was too warm. It's difficult to find the right level.

KESTENBAUM: Almost 200 countries have sent delegations here. All require office space, which means more carbon emissions. The building we are in now, it's not very well insulated. It's temporary, a tent the size of a Wal-Mart store.

Mr. NAPIERSKI: Six weeks ago, this was a parking lot. And in, actually, about two weeks, it will be a parking lot again.

KESTENBAUM: So, heating the buildings generates a lot of carbon. But 90 percent of the emissions from the conference come from something else.

Can I ask you something quickly, where are you from?

Unidentified Woman #1: Singapore.

KESTENBAUM: And how did you get to Denmark?

Unidentified Woman #1: By plane. The only way, really.

KESTENBAUM: Can I ask what country you're from?

Unidentified Man #1: Maldives. By air�

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #1: �of course.

Unidentified Man #2: I come from Mali. West Africa.

KESTENBAUM: And how did you get to Denmark?

Unidentified Man #2: By plane. Yeah.

Unidentified Man #3: From Japan.

KESTENBAUM: And how did you get to Denmark?

Unidentified Man #3: Yes by plane, of course. Shall I have to swim from Japan?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #3: Sorry, we have very few choices.

KESTENBAUM: Jan-Christoph Napierski says the grand total of all emissions from the conference is probably going to be around 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

Mr. NAPIERSKI: How much is that? Well, an average Dane is emitting about 10 tons of CO2 per year.

KESTENBAUM: An average Danish person.

Mr. NAPIERSKI: Yeah. It would be about 4,000 Danes. Four thousand average Danes.

KESTENBAUM: How many Americans?

Mr. NAPIERSKI: Actually, this I don't know.

KESTENBAUM: I looked it up. A person in the U.S. on an average puts out twice as much carbon as a Dane, so the total for the conference is about what 2,000 Americans put out in a year. However you look at it, the total is substantial and potentially embarrassing for a conference about climate change. So, the Danish government is going to pick up the tab. It's paying for offsets. Often, that means planting trees to suck up some carbon. In this case, it's building fuel efficient kilns to make bricks in Bangladesh. So, how much of the carbon will be offset from this conference?

Mr. NAPIERSKI: All carbon from this conference will be offset. The Danish government decided to offset all greenhouse gas emissions from this conference, both travel and local emissions.

KESTENBAUM: How much is that going to cost?

Mr. NAPIERSKI: 700,000 euros.



KESTENBAUM: That's about a million dollars. But before we start thanking the Danish government for being so generous, I have to tell you one thing about Denmark. It has, by some measures, the highest taxes in the world - taxes on coffee at the convention center, on hotel rooms, on taxi rides. Napierski says, in the end, the climate talks will probably provide a bit of an economic boost for the country.

David Kestenbaum, NPR News, Copenhagen.

MONTAGNE: And today in Copenhagen, a possible boost for the climate talks. Secretary Clinton said the U.S. is willing to work toward a $100 billion fund by the year 2020 to help developing countries reduce their emissions.

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