Monday, December 21, 2009

It is up to us to solve the climate crisis

"Stand with Tuvalu" was the rallying cry at the Copenhagen climate summit. Tuvalu, the Maldives and other island nations are looking at a harsh future where rising sea levels will swamp their homelands. This was their chance to have a voice, and now the entire world knows their fate, but they went away overshadowed again by the US and China. While many may be disappointed in the outcome of the summit, we can all be proud that it was the NGO community that took the stage along with small developing countries and small island states, those that stand to lose the most in this crisis, to rally the world toward a meaningful science-based solution.

No one disputes that the UN system of consensus is difficult if not impossible when you have 193 countries trying to agree on something this huge. It all comes down to politics, money and survival. When you look at the science, the summit was a failure. No deadlines for a legally binding agreement were set. No individual committments were made by any country. The science tells us we need to reduce emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. The EU is pledging 20%, the US a mere 3%. Every year that we delay makes the goal harder to meet.

What came out of the summit in the end was this: a political agreement crafted in a last minute meeting between China, Brazil, South Africa, India and the US, a meeting that Obama just happened to walk in to. China and India agreed to report their emissions reductions and submit to international analysis, and the US and others agreed to provide $30B a year over the next 3 years to a development fund for developing nations with a goal to have $100B per year by 2020. (Bangladesh quickly made it clear that the developing world was looking for something closer to $600B a year.) Again, money vs. power in a huge game of climate chicken.

What I find heartning, however, is how a country like Brazil made such a large turn around. On one of the last days of the summit, they pledged to contribute to the development fund (even though they are a develping nation that stands to gain from it as well). While they are one of the largest emitters of CO2, those emissions are largely due to deforestation, something they want and need to solve. Domestic policital pressure from within their country from environmental groups and others has completely changed internal politics to make Brazil a willing participant in negotiations.

What some are saying now, is that the 30-35 countries that represent 90-95% of the worlds carbon emissions need to lead this process, something that Obama has begun with the Major Emitters Forum. The US and China have to stop fighting and make some real movement. China is developing the technology and the US needs to keep up. Political pressure has to remain strong in every country, especially here at home to develop strong legislation, strong regulation and a strong green economy. That is where we come in. Our work and yours, working with our Senators, developing green solutions, conserving energy and above all educating others is the most important work of all. Thank you for all you do.