December 28th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
When the United Nations Climate Change Conference ended Dec. 19 in Copenhagen, world leaders had reached an agreement to cap the global temperature rise by significantly reducing emissions and financing environmental efforts in developing countries.
The end result, however, is much weaker than many environmentalists would have liked, and the international blame game is heating up.
While most countries supported the Copenhagen Accord, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admitted it “cannot be everything that everyone hoped for, but it is an essential beginning.”
The Accord recognizes the scientific view that an increase in global temperature below 2° is required to stave off global warming’s worst effects. Mitigation requires industrialized countries to commit to implementing, individually or jointly, quantified emissions targets by 2020.
The deadline for countries to sign the Accord is Jan. 31, and President Obama is trying to remain optimistic.
“After extremely difficult and complex negotiations, this important breakthrough lays the foundation for international action in the years to come,” he said. “This progress did not come easily, and we know that progress on this particular aspect of climate-change negotiations is not enough. Going forward, we’re going to have to build on the momentum that we established in Copenhagen to ensure that international action to significantly reduce emissions is sustained and sufficient over time.
“At home,” he continued, “that means continuing our efforts to build a clean energy economy that has the potential to create millions of new jobs and new industries. And it means passing legislation that will create the incentives necessary to spark this clean energy revolution.
“So, even though we have a long way to go, there’s no question that we’ve accomplished a great deal over the last few days. And I want America to continue to lead on this journey, because if America leads in developing clean energy, we will lead in growing our economy and putting our people back to work, and leaving a stronger and more secure country to our children.”
Photo courtesy of the White House
Read More:What Did Copenhagen Achieve?
December 13th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
As the United Nations Climate Change Conference continues in Copenhagen, atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe, MS, offers her take on what needs to happen.
“It is encouraging to see global leaders discussing the ways climate change may affect us and how we can contribute toward a solution,” says the research associate professor at Texas Tech University’s Department of Geosciences and coauthor of A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions.
Interestingly, her 224-page book examines Christian views on climate change. In an effort to dispel many of the myths and misconceptions that cloud Americans’ views, Hayhoe and coauthor Andrew Farley (a pastor) address why Christians should care about global warming and why temperature increases are more than “just a cycle.”
To avoid climate change’s most severe effects, we must globally stabilize the concentration of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere at no more than 450 parts per million (ppm) by 2050, Hayhoe says. This limit is designed to avoid a global average temperature increase exceeding 3.5°F—a benchmark she and other scientists believe could wreak increasing environmental havoc. (Others are pushing for a 350-ppm limit.)
“If we wait until 2020 to start emission reductions, we’ll have to cut twice as fast than if we start in 2010 to meet the same target,” says Hayhoe, who contributed to the Nobel Prize-winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007.
Read More:Christian Perspectives on Climate Change
December 11th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
Several groups are lauding Monday’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, which officially concluded that human activity causes greenhouse gases that threaten our health and welfare.
Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), an international coalition of more than 430 organizations in 52 countries, has long maintained that the impacts of climate change would be devastating to the health of world populations through increased famine, heat waves, disruption of the ocean food supply, flooding, disease encroachment, drought, population displacement, war and chronic illness from air pollution.
“As an organization, our goal is to protect public health through reduction of pollution and environmental factors contributing to illness,” say Executive Director Anna Gilmore Hall, RN. “We welcome the EPA statement as a powerful commitment of support to our climate change reduction efforts.”
“With this announcement, the EPA is taking an important step forward,” adds Josh Karliner, the HCWH’s international coordinator. “It is now up to the President to follow through by negotiating a strong and fair agreement in Copenhagen that leads to a binding accord to protect public health from climate change.”
HCWH has placed an advertisement in the New York Times to draw attention to the public health aspects of climate change, and the group has also helped launch an online Prescription for a Healthy Planet initiative. For more information on HCWH’s climate change program, click here.
The National Wildlife Association also hails the EPA decision.
“This action clears the way for serious measures to reduce the pollution that is accelerating global warming, and the timing couldn’t be better,” says Joe Mendelson, the organization’s global warming policy director. “The Obama administration’s action enforces the Clean Air Act and strengthens the President’s hand for the upcoming talks to forge a global deal to fight climate change.
“The announcement follows the recent diplomatic breakthrough with China and India, who both announced their willingness to take action to control pollution if the world acts. For the first time ever, the leaders of the world will gather with offers to act from China and the United States, the world’s two biggest emitters. I am optimistic that the talks will yield a workable plan to protect our children’s future.”
Read More:Groups Praise EPA Report on Greenhouse Gases
December 7th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
As the United Nations Climate Change Conference begins today in Copenhagen, some experts believe world leaders will be sufficiently motivated to achieve consensus on ways to reduce greenhouse gases.
In the United States, retired military leaders like Gen. Anthony Zinni call climate change a “threat multiplier” that could have disastrous consequences for unstable countries like Somalia, Sudan, Kenya and Nigeria.
Chinese, Indian and Pakistani leaders are keenly aware of these risks, recognizing that their nations may endure water scarcity as global warming dries up mountain snowpack and disrupts the monsoon season.
The United States could still agree to “Kyoto Lite”—a set of targets and a timetable that look weaker than 1997’s Kyoto Protocol, according to Matthew R. Auer, PhD, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University, Bloomington. If so, U.S. leaders would still be agreeing to reduce more carbon dioxide than any other country.
“The U.S., China and India could turn out to be climate heroes if they put their minds to it,” says Dr. Auer, author of Restoring Cursed Earth: Appraising Environmental Policy Reforms in Eastern Europe and Russia. “China is getting smarter about how it produces and uses energy, with everything from high-tech furnaces at steel mills to newly insulated office buildings now saving energy in Chinese cities. China’s solar power and wind turbine industries compete fiercely with U.S. firms for global market share.
“In India, Tata Motors’ peppy Nano minicar gets 65 mpg, and new alternative fuel and electric battery models are in the works. With that kind of ingenuity and their newfound wealth, China and India in partnership with the U.S. could go a long way in fighting global warming, with or without a resounding diplomatic triumph at Copenhagen.”
Read More:United States, China, India: Climate Heroes?
December 6th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
As reported Wednesday in A Pivotal Moment in Environmental Politics, world leaders will gather tomorrow in Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Key discussion topics include:
- What will developed nations do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
- What will developing nations do to curb emissions growth?
- Who will pay for these measures?
The Copenhagen summit may be the last chance to head off disastrous effects from climate change—and our efforts may already be too late, according to Rafael Reuveny, PhD, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University, Bloomington.
“The climate change train has left,” says Dr. Reuveny, coeditor of North and South in the World Political Economy. “What we are trying to do now is limit the rise in temperatures to an acceptable level, and this may not be possible.”
Devastating Socioeconomic Upheaval
Some models suggest we may be close to a “climate tipping point,” where the effects of global warming generate positive feedbacks that make the trend almost impossible to stop, Dr. Reuveny says.
His research shows changes in climate produce devastating socioeconomic upheaval, including forced migration and increased conflict, especially in the developing world.
But Dr. Reuveny is also concerned that the sacrifice required to prevent a climate disaster could bring about a “social tipping point”—a dangerous social disruption. A sufficient reduction in greenhouse gases could upset the social order—at first in countries with less robust governance systems, followed by developed nations.
Two Possible Scenarios for Copenhagen
Dr. Reuveny anticipates two possible outcomes in Copenhagen:
- It’s possible, though unlikely, that there could be a broad-based agreement to slash greenhouse gas emissions by enough to avert serious climate effects.
- We will essentially continue with business as usual. Sooner or later, this would lead to economic decline and social chaos, at first in the developing world and then in the rich nations.
The latter is a “gloomy scenario,” he says, “but unfortunately the most likely.”
A Marshall Plan for Climate Change?
Dr. Reuveny believes there’s a better way to approach global warming: Developed nations could agree to relatively modest emissions reductions, while developing nations could agree to slow their rate of emissions growth for a while and then accept modest emissions reductions.
Most importantly, the rich nations could create a massive “Global Warming Marshall Plan” to help vulnerable developing nations begin adapting now to problems brought on by climate change—problems, it should be noted, that developed nations caused.
Read More:Have We Hit the Climate Tipping Point?
December 2nd, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
In less than a week, world leaders—including President Obama—will convene in Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, set for Dec. 7–18.
The goal, as we’ve reported before, is to achieve international consensus on climate-change goals for the whole planet.
Many grassroots groups have asked for the public’s support, and we’ve chronicled efforts like the music industry’s Beds Are Burning campaign.
Politics, however, is a beastly affair, and some experts believe the Copenhagen summit is already doomed.
“We can only hope that the looming failure of Copenhagen can be overcome by future talks and a serious change in resolve by the United States and China,” says Scott Ollinger, PhD, an associate professor at the University of New Hampshire’s Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space.
“The gravity of the challenge is underscored by the fact that even the best of outcomes at Copenhagen would still be insufficient for dealing with the problems of rising CO2 and climate change,” he adds.
It’s now up to us to put pressure on our representatives and demand decisive action. You can voice your concerns by signing numerous petitions. Please visit:
For Your Organic Bookshelf
Read More:A Pivotal Moment in Environmental Politics
November 10th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
As a number, 350 may not mean much to you, but it’s extremely important to those following the climate-change crisis.
According to the Citizens Climate Lobby, 350 parts per million (ppm) is the carbon-dioxide limit each nation must achieve to keep global temperatures from rising to catastrophic levels. The current atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentration is 389 ppm—a number that’s climbing 2 parts a year.
Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) has asked President Obama to reach agreement on this goal with other world leaders at next month’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. He and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) are circulating a letter in the House that calls upon Obama to take action. Click here to read the full text.
“Global leaders can negotiate with one another, but humanity cannot negotiate with the earth’s climate,” says Citizens Climate Lobby Founder and President Marshall Saunders. “It will not compromise. We must yield or face the wrath of nature.”
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis
Read More:Climate Change: The Point of No Return