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Between the devil and the deep blue sea

To examine the factors coming in to play at the Copenhagen Climate Conference

by James Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To examine the factors coming in to play at this important conference.

Preparation and materials

  • Music for Time for reflection, such as ‘Fragile’ by Sting.
  • For more information see


  1. Between 7 and 18 December this year, a flock of world leaders, businesspeople and activists will descend on the Danish capital of Copenhagen. A pleasant, liveable city, Copenhagen seems far away from the power play of international politics. Yet this city, perhaps for its strong environmental record, has been chosen to host the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The outcome of this meeting will have enormous repercussions for everyone in the world.
  2. The aim of the summit is to plan for the mitigation of climate change after 2012 (the period up to 2012 is covered by the existing Kyoto agreement). This is a truly global issue; runaway climate change has the potential to kill millions through a combination of natural disasters, crop failures and the conflicts that will follow.

    Hurricane Katrina and the ravaging of New Orleans in the United States has shown that the effects of climate change will not be experienced only by the world’s poor. Everyone has a purely selfish interest in the prevention of an international disaster, as well as, one would hope, the altruistic desire to save human lives. Many believe that the Copenhagen agreement represents the last chance to turn back and prevent catastrophic change. If no agreement is reached, then any attempts to mitigate the effects of climate change will be made purely as a response to disasters.
  3. So why has nothing been done about it? To answer this question requires an understanding of the global nature of the problem. Nations all over the world have been setting and enforcing mild emissions reduction programmes. Yet even if, say, the United Kingdom were to reduce its carbon output to zero, other countries’ emissions would render that irrelevant. No single state will take the lead on its own, for fear of being taken advantage of by other states. The only two states with enough global clout to be able to lead and show the way are taking steps, but have other concerns.

    The first, the United States, has recently begun to draft an emissions trading scheme, whereby corporations are granted permits to emit a certain amount, and can sell excess emissions rights to more polluting businesses. However, this is stuck in a deadlock in Congress because of a combination of climate change denial and worries about the effects such a programme could have on the poor.
  4. The other great emitter in the world is China. China’s government is highly authoritarian and hierarchical, which can be very useful when dramatic changes are needed in society! However, China’s enormous population and recent economic development offer it a moral case against restricting its economy: why should the world’s most populous nation be denied its right to economic growth because of the selfish actions of westerners for the past hundred years?

    That said, China has made steps to green its economy. Wind power and a huge railway expansion are part of its enormous stimulus package designed to keep its hyperactive economy from stagnating during the global downturn. If China’s rulers can help broker a deal at Copenhagen, they will gain a moral respectability that they have previously lacked, and will have announced their entrance to the stage of world superpowers. 
  5. Ultimately, then, success at Copenhagen will rely on nations abandoning the power politics that has characterized international relations for hundreds of years and start seeing themselves as individuals on the world stage. A successful response to climate change could see huge economic growth and a new sense of world fraternity, which would be worth the huge expenditure. However, the price of failure is far greater.

Time for reflection

(Play the music under the reflection.)

At this time, it is vital that the nations of the world act together. We in the West contribute enormously to the problem of global warming.

In a moment of quiet, reflect on what you have done as an individual to help reduce your carbon footprint.

Now think about what you know you could do, but which might make life slightly more difficult. Perhaps using the car less often? Buying locally produced food? Not having a new state-of-the-art mobile phone?

Reflect on what you want, and what you really don’t need.

How could we work together to reduce our carbon footprint?

How could you encourage the leaders of the world to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint?


Creator God,

We hold before you the Copenhagen conference.

May the leaders of the world work collaboratively to bring about a fair agreement

that the nations will hold to.

May we actively care for the world.

Help us not to pollute, but to clean;

not to be greedy but to realize our limited needs;

to put the needs of the poor in the world before ours.

Help us to actively care for the world.


Publication date: November 2009   (Vol.11 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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