The Climate Alarm Went Off, Colltalers
The U.N. Climate Summit, which starts tomorrow in New York, is a last-ditch effort by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to engage governments and corporations in the climate change issue. It’s also a way to prevent next year’s official conference in Paris from turning into a complete fiasco.
Thus, just in case the urgency of the matter is lost to those decision makers, thousands have marched yesterday in major cities around the world, to demand action and pressure political and corporate leaders, who so far, have shown an appalling, less-than-enthusiastic response to the crisis.
As the decision to call up the summit has been criticized by many, for giving equal footing in the conversation to both governments dedicated to increase environmental protection rules, and well-known polluters, it may also put the spotlight on both parties’ true intentions. Just as the rallies, which were organized by climate organizations, seemed to have underlined a powerful message: we, the world, will be watching you.
And the U.S., as usual, has an oversized role to play, if it chooses to do so. Or should we say, a lot of catch up to do, since the Bush administration decided, in 2001, to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, an already timid agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Whereas measures such as carbon capture or increased taxation were also on the table, overall, the protocol did have its shortcomings. But the U.S.’s rejection opened the floodgates and gave tacit approval to the fossil-fuel energy industry to boost even more oil drilling in pristine regions, and ramp up coal prospection, ultimately giving rise to highly pollutant new technologies such as fracking.
It’s been since a costly game of hide and seek by American officials, both from the Bush and Obama administrations, as the oil and gas industry continues to dictate the nation’s energy policy, and investments in alternatives remain plagued by partisan gridlock in the U.S. congress.
Speaking of costs, Ban Ki-moon’s has emphasized that policies with a minimal chance of being effective have to be backed by hard cash. The richest among the 125 nations taking part of the summit will be asked to commit between $10 billion and $15 billion, according to The Guardian.
Once again, the U.S. has stricken a dismal note, as White House officials have said that investments in the Green Climate Fund, to help poor nations to implement environment protection measures, is not part of the administration’s agenda for the summit.
Naturally, some of its allies may follow suit. In fact, it’s been a cruel joke of sorts when the developed world demands that emerging economies right their wrong, pollutant, ways, without committing to also do so themselves. And lately, there’s a new scapegoat in the block: China.
There’s no question that the vertiginously fast industrialization of China has been a contributing factor in the rising levels of smog and environmental pollution around the world. Then again, what may not be as equally invoked, is that China has led the world in investments in solar and wind power energy, and has addressed with considerably more emphasis than the U.S. its troubling problems with air quality.
An Energy Transition Research Institute report shows that China is now the biggest wind-power generator, largest market for solar power, and also the world’s top hydro-energy producer. Only last year, it’s invested some $56 billion in renewable energy.
So, even though coal is still a dominant force meeting the country’s huge demand for energy, the rationale that U.S. action would have zero effect on global pollution, since China’s industry grows larger every day, simply doesn’t pan out. The U.S. must lead or China will take it from there.
So, yes, the world will have to shell out some dole in order to get things done. But if we think that the costs are too high now, wait until coastal lines begin to flood, entire city populations find themselves underwater overnight, and billions go in desperate need of disaster aid.
Besides, costs may not be that high, according to a new U.N.-sponsored study, called Better Growth, Better Climate, which gathered data refuting the notion that we either fight climate change or grow the world’s economy. And 2008 Economics Nobel Award winner Paul Krugman concurs.
‘Saving the planet would be cheap; it might even be free. But will anyone believe the good news?,’ Krugman wrote in a recent column. Along with the U.N. study, he also quotes from an International Monetary Fund working paper, ‘that strong measures to limit carbon emissions would have hardly any negative effect on economic growth, and might actually lead to faster growth.’
Factors supporting such guarded optimism are the implementation of sensible policies, such as pricing carbon pollution, to force corporations to reduce emissions, the already falling costs of renewables, such as wind and solar power, and job creation, a by product of any new technology, in the long run. Apart from that, even the complete elimination of some industries, such as coal mining, would have positive health benefits for all.
Ban Ki-moon’s personal push for the success of the meeting is also understandable. Despite the criticism, its ‘non-official’ character may give him a chance to plead directly to the world’s biggest polluters, often left off the hook when it comes to environmental accountability.
After all, barely four years since the record-breaking environmental accident, the April 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, its main culprit, BP, and partners in crime, Halliburton and Transocean, continue using the court system to try to weasel their way out of responsibility, all the while posting sizable profits. Despite all evidence to the contrary, some of the most affected by the disaster are still to be fully compensated.
For the Secretary-General, the summit may be also a chance to salvage a legacy that will be seriously hindered if, coming December of next year, nations fail to reach a meaningful agreement on climate change. So far, the prospects for exactly that to happen are clear and present.
It’s been positive, then, that the People’s Climate March has displayed some universal muscle, with people showing up in numbers large enough to maybe scare elected officials to action, as they’re wont to do in such situations, and warn corporations about a new twist in consumer trends.
Who knows, we may be even seeing the dawn of a new era of mass rallies towards causes that are dear and vital to people, regardless of their nationalities, just as housing, jobs, health care, and racial and economic equality have been. Some of these themes have been successfully carried by movements such as the Occupy Wall Street, and even local, regional drives towards democracy, freedom, and cultural identity.
Gathered under the umbrella of the fight to reverse climate change, however, such causes acquire a new resonance, a renewed commonality and reason to be. It may have a disproportionate impact on the impoverished, the socially outcast, and the vulnerable. But it affects the economy of the whole system, on a global scale, and therefore, it’s a cause relevant to both rich and poor, the affluent and the marginalized.
Unlike divisive issues such as religion, race, and ethnicity, the climate is a reason to find common ground among nations, and as such, it’s definitely worth every penny spent to fight it, and now. Let’s hope this is also the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Have a great one. WC