We all know that s**t’s about to hit the fan with CO2 levels ever-rising; can the U.N.’s Global Climate Change Conference in Paris actually make a significant difference?
Climate Change Conference: What’s Going Down
Over 160 countries, which represent 90 percent of global emissions, are participating in the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in Paris, which runs from Nov. 30 to Dec 11. This is the conclusion to four years of international negotiations that aim to establish a strong, balanced agreement that will be the base for international efforts against climate change. The agreement will ideally adapt to the impacts of climate change and provide assistance to developing countries so they can adapt to more environmentally-friendly energy systems. Current commitments on greenhouse gas emissions are up in 2020, so this new agreement should cover plans for the decade after that, if not longer.
A Realistic Strategy
In the past, such conferences concluded with the U.N. agreeing to standards, such as a quota on greenhouse gas emissions, that developing countries like India and China never agreed to. And guess what? None of those countries, who have been desperate to scramble up in the ladder to industrialization, bothered to keep to those standards.
Lesson learned: the U.N. isn’t powerful enough to enforce standards on any country. And so this time, the U.N. let each government decide exactly what type of changes they plan on making. Although not every country is physically represented at the conference, they have all presented their “intended nationally determined contributions”.
Some Pros and Cons
The good thing about this strategy is that each country’s proposed contribution has been well thought-out by every government to make sure they are capable of keeping-up with their goal. The down side is, the pledges just aren’t big enough. Even if each country truly does make the changes they pledge to do, the end-goal of these four years of conferences will fall very far from their intended mark.
We Just Can’t Mess Around
For many years, scientists have warned us that it’s extremely dangerous for the planet to go past the 2°C global warming mark. And according to the pledges made at the conference, global emissions are just going to keep rising, and by 2100, we’ll reach reach somewhere near the 3°C global warming mark.
Granted, a few years ago we were on track for an apocalyptic 4°C mark by the turn of the century. Still, 3°C is dangerous and deadly.
A Big Step for the United States
The US has committed to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions somewhere between 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Several policies are already in place to work towards this goal, such as the Clean Power Plan which will decarbonize power plants. The Energy Policy Act and Energy Independence and Security Act addresses buildings sector emissions and energy conservation standards for many different appliances.
This is, in a large part, to democratic passion for the environment. Until very recently, the majority of Republicans denied hard scientific facts in support of global climate change. And this isn’t just a conservative thing. The Republican party is the only conservative party in the world that denies global climate change.
Even now, many Republicans have criticized Obama’s zeal over the Paris Climate Change Conference. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio remarked that were he president he’d “be spending [his] time trying to build a coalition to fight ISIS.” He adds that “they’re a lot more passionate at this point about climate change than they are the real problem that faces us today.”
What Developing Countries Have Pledged
Developing, third-world countries account for four-fifths of global emissions of the past century. This means we really need them to step up and be open to making some big, costly commitments to change – and so far, they haven’t. Here’s what we’ve gotten from some of the countries that leave the biggest carbon footprint.
Sadly, India was one of the few countries refused to make any emissions commitment. They offered a 33 to 35 per cent reduction in “carbon intensity” (CO2 emissions per dollar of GDP). This noncommittal intention would reduce emissions only very minimally.
China pledged to reduce its carbon intensity by 60-to-65 percent in 2030, as compared to 2005. But Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that less effective than China’s current course of industrialization. Which means they’re committing to diddly squat.
Pakistan has missed every deadline to submit a pledge. When they did finally send apage to the UN mid-November, it didn’t include a single commitment.
Brazil, who’s CO2 emissions have had more to do with deforestation than energy use, also made a joke of a pledge. They committed to cut emissions 37 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. But, they’ve already cut emissions by 41 percent since 2005, so what’s their pledge worth?
Nigeria, which is the biggest oil industry in all of Africa, turned in their pledge last minute, which precluded even a cursory assessment. And Indonesia’s pledge is vague and confusing, which makes it virtually useless.
So, Is there Hope?
The determining factors are being decided now, during the Paris conference.
According to Thomas van de Beek, a sustainable frontrunner and social entrepreneur , and the founder of Bushwick Social Ventures, the real work that is happening in Paris right now is taking place at the numerous side events and related forums, like the Sustainable Innovation Forum or the Sustainable Landscapes Forum.
“The good thing is that more and more people are becoming involved in bottom up local change, and in that way become part of the biggest movement in the world, a powerful grassroots movement that is capable of drawing new systems in which the existence of humans is in balance with the rest of nature. There’s still a long way to go, but seeing all these people, from literally all over the world coming together to restore that balance, leaves me in a good mood,” reports Van de Beek from Paris.
One of the main things that needs to be agreed upon is how third world countries will get more financial support to up their pledgestoward lower emissions. But bottom line is, these developing countries need to really care enough to make this happen. Otherwise the money can quickly go nowhere.
Van de Beek, who’s been hot on the Paris scene, remarks, “The current negotiations may or may not lead to a binding declaration. If it will, then it will be based on a 2,7 – 3,5 centigrade raise in temperature. Clearly that is far from ideal, and even this target will be very hard to reach. There’s simply too much at stake economically speaking, and in the end our systems are holding us captive. This system can’t survive without growth, and if we want to stay under the general agreed ‘safe’ temperature raise of 1,5 centigrades (for example the reefs won’t survive if temperature surpasses this, as David Attenborough’s new documentary series The Great Barrier Reef show), we would have to drastically change our behavior and say goodbye to our consumer-capitalist lifestyles. That’s the real problem, and COP21 isn’t going to tackle that.Not even if in the end there will be an agreement of putting $100 billion on the table, since that is in fact nothing more than a drop in the ocean.”
In the past few years, it’s been determined that it’s up to the first world countries, who already made a killing and also a significant dent in carbon increase through industrialization, to give financial support to third world countries so they can develop their industries in environmentally-friendly ways. Van de Beek reports, “$250 billion is needed annually for conservation and restoration of landscapes in developing countries alone. When asked if it’s likely that the rich countries would help the poor countries, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigerian minister of Finance answered ‘Should it come from them? Yes. Will it? No.'”
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