UN Climate Conference: The countdown to Copenhagen
Three hundred and thirty-one days, plus a final frantic fortnight: not very long, really, to put together the most complex and vital agreement the world has ever seen. But that's all the time there is: in 331 days from now, on 7 December, the UN Climate Conference will open in Copenhagen and the world community will try to agree a solution to the gravest threat it has ever faced: global warming.
Between 10,000 and 15,000 officials, advisers, diplomats, campaigners and media personnel from nearly 200 countries, almost certainly joined by limousine-loads of heads of state and government from America's President Barack Obama down are expected to meet in the Danish capital in one of the most significant gatherings in history.
If that sounds like exaggeration, we need only glance at some historical comparisons. The Copenhagen meeting will have a far broader reach and potential impact on the world than the Congress of Vienna, say, the 1814-1815 assembly which attempted to reorder Europe after the Napoleonic wars, or the Paris peace conference of 1919, which tried to construct a new global order after the First World War, or the 1945 meetings at Yalta and Potsdam which tried to do the same after the Second World War. For they were all dealing with national boundaries, politics and political structures, phenomena which of course are vital in human terms, but ephemeral and changeable. Copenhagen will be dealing with something fundamental to life on earth: the stability of the biosphere.
Known officially in UN-speak as COP 15 — the 15th meeting of the parties of the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change — the meeting in Denmark will try to work out a way for the world to act together to preserve the thin envelope of atmosphere, soil and sea which surrounds our planet and enables us to live, in the face of rising temperatures which threaten to destroy its habitability.
All the world's major governments, including the once-sceptical administration of the US President George Bush, now formally accept that temperature rises have already begun, are likely if unchecked to prove disastrous for human civilisation, and are being caused by emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide from our power plants, factories and motor vehicles.
But if all the major governments now accept it, getting them to agree on how to tackle it still seems a very long way off indeed. The essential problem, to use the jargon, is burden-sharing. We know the world has to cut its CO2 emissions drastically, and soon. But which countries are to cut them, by how much?