Rajagopalan: Climate-Change Waiting Game

Dec 24th, 2011 | By | Category: Advocacy, CoP17, Development and Climate Change, News, UNFCCC

It’s the end of another year, a time to look back and take stock, maybe even make a resolution or two for the future. And there’s no bigger future to contend with than that of the planet. Unfortunately, after two weeks of intense negotiations at the 17th United Nations conference on climate change earlier this month, leaders from nearly 200 countries resolved to . . . wait.

Holding off on serious and coordinated global action to reduce emissions not only drives us closer to irreversible climate change, it gives us the false sense that we really aren’t in the grave danger that we are.

Although delegates agreed to draft a new treaty holding all nations to the same emissions standards and rules, they also agreed they it wouldn’t come into force until 2020. In the meantime, the contentious and flawed Kyoto Protocol emissions standards — which the United States never ratified — have been extended by another decade.

We don’t have another decade to put off a global resolution on climate change. The Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of scientists tracking climate change data, recently reported that global carbon dioxide emissions increased by 5.9 percent in 2010, the largest ever recorded annual jump. This amounts to an additional half billion tons of carbon in our air.

In the last decade, global carbon emissions rose by an average of 3 percent each year, up from the 1 percent annual growth rate of the 1990s. Despite increasingly urgent warnings from leading scientists all over the world, the move toward a concerted global effort to bring down emissions and work together to mitigate climate change has been slow.

Why?

The United States, for many decades the top producer of carbon waste, was surpassed by China in 2007, and other rapidly developing nations like Brazil and India are also increasing their carbon output. The Kyoto Protocol made no demands on these countries, which is why the United States refused to participate. And of course many industrial leaders in these countries complain that they should not be denied the rapid carbon-fueled development and growth that made the richer nations so rich. But this kind of “why me?” and “you first” thinking isn’t in anyone’s best interest. Climate change poses the greatest single threat to human survival, largely because it has the capacity to unleash unforeseen levels of disease, poverty and war in competition over scarce resources, in addition to more and worse natural disasters.

It’s good news at least that local, national and regional efforts to control emissions, invest in alternative energy and respond to the threat of climate change are on the rise. Cities like New York City, San Diego and Boulder, Colo., to name a few in the United States, have introduced a number of innovations and programs to restrict carbon emissions. It could be that, in this case, more of us are thinking globally and acting locally, and that the combined efforts of cities around the world will significantly increase attention to and participation in carbon reduction efforts.

But the overall rising carbon-emissions figures point out that these efforts aren’t enough. Significant work needs to be done — and by the largest polluters. Policies to encourage alternative and renewable methods for producing concrete, keeping homes and workplaces heated, and enabling families and countries to rise to the middle class — which consumes more energy — must not be blocked by short-term thinking.

Climate change denial must be combated with the facts. And the facts are these: Climate change is already happening, whether we like it or not. At the very least, we should resolve to do something about it. Now.

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