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Waiting in Copenhagen

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The mood is edgy in the forum in Copenhagen. This large arena/conference space has been set up for NGO-accredited people attending the United Nations Climate Conference. Large screens broadcast the proceedings from the Bella Center (where the actual conference is being held) to rows and rows of seats occupied only occasionally by a person. Laptops are everywhere, with people following news sources and social networking sites while creating their own contributions.

Some watch the screens, which show the conference's high-level session, in which heads of states are giving short speeches about the problem, the process and the outcome. Denmark, China, Brazil, USA, Lesotho, India, Japan, Ethiopia, South Africa, Grenada, Sweden, Sudan, European Commission, Bolivia and Venezuela, the final speaker for now. The news is reporting on talks between the United States and China, perhaps others.

President Obama's originally strict schedule seems to have changed in order to work toward an agreement. The stakes are exceptionally high, both for the planet and for the political capital of these world leaders. I am trying to think of another point in history in which more than a hundred heads of state have come together, after weeks of negotiations. All talked about the gravity of the situation, the necessity of action and the need to come together for a solution. Yet an agreement is still uncertain, and the world waits.

The question of the moment is whether there will be an agreement. What will it be? We will know, perhaps in a few hours, a day, maybe two. I keep thinking about why this all matters. For some of the countries, the issue is survival. As sea levels rise, the small island nations negotiate for an agreement to keep the warming low enough to prevent the destruction of their countries. For others, the issue is economic. How do we maintain a stable climate while shifting our economy away from major energy sources?

The question I return to is about the power of the world community. Will we come together to solve a problem defined not by an enemy, but by our relationship to the world we inhabit? The answers are all still uncertain, and for now we wait. In Copenhagen and around the world, we wait. I hope our leaders come together to put us on track to solve the climate change problem, beginning now and perfecting along the way.

The one answer I'm certain about is the one the world's people will give to their leaders when an agreement is reached. We are going to work to solve this problem.

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  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.