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Snowstorms in Copenhagen

Guest blog by Peter Byass, Director of Umeå Centre for Global Health Research, Sweden

Back in Copenhagen today, there were heavy snowstorms – not entirely to the liking of some of the delegates from the tropics, and a curious irony as the world’s climate gurus on the inside talk about possible global warming. In some ways I think the contrast of snow outside and global warming inside typifies the world’s dilemma about climate change. Often the public view of climatologists talking about a few degrees’ change in temperature tends to be a collective shrug of the shoulders (and maybe, at least in Europe, a sneaky hope for slightly warmer weather) – without realising that the world’s last Ice Age was only a few degrees cooler than now, on average. In reality every single additional degree in average temperatures has important effects – and, as Prince Charles made clear in his talk today, any climate change is not limited by national boundaries, so we’re all in this together.

Irrespective of climate, the political stakes are definitely hotting up here. Key figures such as the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are now arriving in town, as well as royalty, presidents, prime ministers and other leading actors. One snippet of news I picked up today is that over the next few days there will be more heads of government in town than the number of hotel suites in the entire city… so one can imagine that there may be some interesting behind-the-scenes issues going on. And for the meeting as a whole, there are potentially 45,000 delegates at a conference centre that holds a maximum of 15,000, so let’s hope that not everyone turns up at the same time!

Peter Byass is on PLoS Medicine’s editorial board and is the deputy editor of the peer-reviewed open access journal Global Health Action.

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