Now that we’ve talked about how climate change is happening and carbon emissions are increasing rapidly (in the previous post), let’s discuss what’s being done and what can be done to address this global ecological crisis. I hope this isn’t too heavy for pre-holiday fare.
In September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, an international organization of climate scientists) released an important report. They argued that climate change is “unequivocal” and that the “dominant cause” has been human actions in pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Moreover, even if the world begins to moderate greenhouse gas emissions, warming is likely to cross the critical threshold of 2°C by the end of this century, which would have serious consequences including sea level rises, arctic ice melts, heatwaves, major changes to rainfall, and extreme weather events. If crucial steps aren’t taken, “tipping points” and thresholds will soon be reached and climatic changes will be irreversible.
It is also important to note that the most vulnerable and poorest peoples–who are not responsible for the crisis–are the most likely to be affected by climate change. Numerous islands and coastal regions are already being threatened. Developing nations are unable to cope with extreme weather (such as the recent typhoon in the Philippines), droughts, and water and food shortages. Climate change is an environmental justice issue, though ultimately it will affect us all and our future generations.
A month ago, an important climate summit, the 19th “Conference of the Parties” meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 19), occurred in Warsaw. International representatives from nearly 200 countries discussed these issues and attempted to continue to negotiate for a new global climate accord by 2015. In addition, developing nations were seeking compensation for the “loss and damage” that they will almost certainly face, while rich countries (which produce most of the carbon emissions) were avoiding taking blame, making commitments, or allowing any statements in UN climate documents that could be used against them in the future. It became so bad that over 800 members of environmental groups and NGOs (including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, WWF, Oxfam, the International Trade Union Confederation, 350.org, and the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance) staged an unprecedented walkout of the talks. In the end, very little was achieved, though a deforestation agreement was made and plans were made for the following meeting next year in Peru.
How does the US fit in all this? Unfortunately, the US is among the countries avoiding making serious commitments to address climate change and rising carbon missions. President Obama finally laid out a climate action plan earlier this year, nearly 25 years after NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen testified before Congress about evidence for global warming. The plan includes a number of sound policy measures and plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, especially with new EPA standards for power plants. This is a good start, but even with this, we’ll still likely reach 3°C warming. Far deeper reductions are needed (such as with a carbon “fee-and-dividend” system, which we can discuss later). Furthermore, environmental justice must be a part of the plan (see this Union of Concerned Scientists blog post), since the burden of the impacts of climate change fall disproportionately on low-income communities and communities of color.
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