Copenhagen Summit: 7-18 December 2009

Seven questions on Climate Change & Copenhagen


>What is climate change?

>By how much will temperatures rise?

>Why the need to limit global warming to 2 degrees?

>Why is it important to meet in Copenhagen?

>What are we asking for?

>What’s Oxfam doing?

>What can you do?


What is climate change?

Earth's climate is changing or that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased as a result of human activities. The concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are higher now than at any time during the last 420,000 years.

Overwhelming scientific evidence supports the conclusion that observed changes in the global climate are, in large part, due to human activities and primarily related to fossil-fuel consumption patterns. Without urgent action to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, the Earth will become warmer by 2050 than at anytime in the last 10,000 years.

 By how much will temperatures rise?

According to several climate models, if nothing is done to mitigate gas emissions, global temperature will increase between 1.4°C and 5.8°C before 2100. To put this warning in context, it is believed that temperature has only varied by 1°C since the origins of civilisation.

Poor people in developing countries have contributed least to greenhouse gas emissions yet they’re suffering the most.

Why the need to limit global warming to 2 degrees?

If global temperatures rise more than 2°C over pre-industrial levels, the climate impact on water resources, food production, sea levels, and ecosystems is predicted to be catastrophic for billions of people, and scientists believe dangerous feedback loops (which trigger spiralling temperatures, increasing much higher much faster) are likely to kick in.

Two billion people will be affected by water shortages and most of Southern Africa will have to cope with year-round droughts. Global agriculture will be undermined and hunger and malnutrition is likely to kill up to three million more people every year.

If global temperatures are allowed to climb above 3°C, billions of people would be affected by severe water stress, crop yields would fall drastically around the world and entire regions, from Australia to Southern Africa, would become non-viable for agriculture.

This could mean up to 550 million additional people affected by severe hunger, and up to 330 million people permanently displaced due to sea-level rise. 

 Why is it important to meet in Copenhagen?

According to the organisers, the aim of the conference is to “reach an international binding agreement on climate issues that will be implemented in 2012”. The best environment experts will meet at the summit, as well as ministers, heads of state and NGO representatives of the 192 members of the UNFCCC. This will be the last conference to prepare for the post-Kyoto period. For the first time, the United States of America will be present, as announced by President Obama himself.

The UN meetings have been called because of a recognition that this is indeed a global issue requiring the urgent attention of all world leaders. What makes the Copenhagen talks different to other international negotiations, such as the G8 or the G20, is that the final agreement will be legally binding – making it more difficult for countries to shirk their responsibilities at a later date.

What are we asking for?

The aims of the Copenhagen meeting are:

  • To set strong binding emission reduction targets for wealthy developed countries of at least 40% below 1990 levels
  • For rich nations to support the countries most affected by climate change by contributing to a fund created to help them adapt.
  • For rich nations to contribute to a fund for technologies and infrastructure to help the high emitting developing countries decrease their emissions and implement low carbon options.

What’s Oxfam doing?

Oxfam is already helping people to cope with severe climate events worldwide – and plan for the future. In Indonesia, for example, we supplied emergency relief during floods in early 2007. We now work with communities there preparing for any flooding to come.

But Oxfam doesn’t wait for emergencies. Poor communities around the world are already adapting to climate change – and with our help, are improving their chances of beating poverty. And we lobby for international action on climate change, too. 

What can you do?

Lobby your government and demand that they agree to meaningful cuts in harmful greenhouse gas emissions as well as making sure that they contribute their fair share to a fund to help developing countries move to cleaner energy options and adapt to the effects of climate change.

This is our chance to make sure our government stands up and takes firm and decisive action leading up to, and at, the Copenhagen meeting. Take the latest climate action including signing our climate petition.

Read more

Take The Climate ChallengeOxfam's new interactive climate gameshow

Read How can poor countries adapt to a changing climate?

Download the report: People-Centered Resilience: Working with vulnerable farmers towards climate change adaptation and food security

Join our petition to help stop climate change.