Out of all the issues facing humanity, the greatest challenge by far is the rapidly changing climate. There is no longer any debate among countries or scientists on climate change. It is a fact that global warming is real. It is a fact that it is caused by anthropogenic fossil fuel use. Regardless of what certain media outlets may say, there is ‘scientific consensus’ that the Earth is warming and humanity is to blame. The debate is no longer ‘is it happening?’; the debate now focuses on ‘who will pay for it?’
The most recent climate summit in Doha, Qatar showed the international community is far from coming to any consensus on what to do. In fact, the 12-day meeting held in 2012 saw a package of a ‘deal’, but this ‘Doha Climate Gateway’ just extended the life of the Kyoto Protocol. Basically, no one agreed to anything except “ride out Kyoto for a few more years.” The meeting saw fierce disagreement between economically developed states and developing states over financing of green energy and compensation for damages caused by climate change. The conference chairman Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah was so frustrated with the entire process that at first he threatened to make all delegates stay as long as necessary to come to an agreement (to infinity if necessary), but instead decided to disregard any and all country objections by banging the gavel in closing and stating that the agreement was ‘so decided.’
Since there is little to no agreement on the international level, it has been left up to individual states to take steps to address climate change. In this area, there is progress. China, the largest emitter of CO2, has passed new laws regulating CO2 emissions and energy efficiency. Mexico has recently passed laws pledging to cut CO2 by 30%. Other countries that have taken active steps to reduce the CO2 include the 27-member European Union, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, El Salvador, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa, South Korea, the U.S., and Vietnam. What we are seeing is that legislation is being driven by countries with emerging economies, perhaps because these areas tend to stand to lose the most when the full effects of climate change appear.
Back in 2010, the US was considering cap and trade legislation. While not perfect, this at least attempted to address climate change. It was in the middle of a recession and domestic politics took a turn for the worst, allowing climate change deniers to grab center stage after the midterms. It was left to US states such as California to pass their own legislation. Obama did what could be done at the federal level, such as requiring better fuel efficiency in vehicles. During his first term, the US public was firmly convinced that climate change was a UN backed conspiracy to take over something (like energy production). However, 2012 saw the US experience a terrible drought and Super-storm Sandy. The beginning of 2013 has seen massive winter storms bury the Northeast under snow. Americans now tend to believe in climate change and want something done about it. All eyes will be on Obama during the State of the Union to see how he addresses the changing climate and what the US plans to do to offset its impact. Investment in green energy seems to be Obama’s plan of action, but one can hope for legislation that limits the Co2 emissions of the US (second in the world, after China).
While there are signs that independently states around the globe are acting on climate change, it will take an international framework and agreement to offset the worst impacts and keep the global temperature to an acceptable level. The next international conference is in Warsaw, Poland in 2013. It is in our best interest as a species that more countries work to address the rising CO2 in the atmosphere, and that some stronger agreement on reducing and mitigating climate change can be reached. Otherwise, the future looks bleak.
For your viewing pleasure, the increase in global temperatures…
Stay tuned for a guest post from a bona fide aquatic biologist who will offer a shellfish perspective on climate change, highlighting how the changing climate is impacting the shellfish industry and local economies.