If you don’t know what Copenhagen and climate change have to do with each other, you’ve got some reading to do.

If you do know, you may be hoping that we are finally on track for a new-and-improved global climate change agreement that will take care of the problems that the Kyoto Protocol failed to solve.

I hope so too. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.

Piecing together a global climate agreement will take the same finesse as building a house of cards. But how cool it is to put that 52nd card in place and have each card supporting the others.

So what cards are on the table?

1) Developed countries (including the United States, European Union, Canada, Japan, Australia) with a long history of industrialization have been responsible for the majority of emissions to date, so are expected to take the lead in reducing their emissions.

2) Key emerging economies (China, India, Brazil, Indonesia) are quickly catching up to — and even surpassing, in the case of China — the emissions of developed countries. Since this is a recent phenomenon (China became the world’s largest emitter within the past few years), these countries bear less historical responsibility for getting us into the bind we are in now.

BUT, if their emissions trajectories aren’t dramatically changed along with those of developed countries, global emissions will continue to rise. So developed countries expect these emerging economies to do their share too.

3) Other developing countries, including many of the world’s poorest in Africa, Asia and on island nations, are already getting hit with the impacts of climate change, and are most vulnerable to future changes because of their dependence on natural resources for their survival.

And yet these countries make minimal contributions to global emissions. So they want and expect the developed countries who created this problem to help them deal with the impacts, by both reducing emissions and also by funding adaptation.

4) Many are waiting on the United States to lead on international targets, but this will depend upon the type of domestic climate legislation the United States can pass. Now about a decade behind other industrialized nations because of its lack of participation in the Kyoto Protocol, the United States will need to ramp up the public and political support domestically to reach the level of reductions that is really needed.

So the question now — which is starting to be addressed this week at climate talks in Bonn, Germany — is how to build a house with all these cards…one that will actually rein in our out-of-control climate.

The way I read these cards suggests that much of the world’s future rests on whether American citizens, their Congress and president can put aside political differences and individual interests to shift our society onto a new and exciting path towards sustainability.

Not by baby steps, but by a big, giant leap forward.

(Image: House of cards. Source: Alex Clark via a Creative Commons license.)

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