Another year is gone and we still lack a binding international agreement on how to deal with our world’s changing climate. As the effects of our atmospheric changes have become more pronounced, I’ve noticed a sea change in climate denialism in just the past year or two. Despite the increasing extremism amongst the political right, almost everybody now admits that climate change is real.
What I haven’t seen is very many political leaders stepping up to the plate to make changes to mitigate the problem. This year, in fact, it’s been quite the opposite. The United States and China are two major players that really need to take a leadership role if one of these myriad climate summits is going to accomplish anything of significance. But politically and economically, both nations are currently in a position where sweeping changes are a challenge.
At the recent Doha conference, the most the U.S. and China would agree to is that everyone would meet again in 2015 and set binding measures then. This was all that could be salvaged from, by all accounts, a frustrating and wheel-spinning meeting. But our climate disaster is an approaching asteroid. It gets harder to push out of the way the longer we wait. Every time someone passes the buck to the next administration, the next generation, the problem grows.
My own country, a major home to the world’s doomed climate change mascot, the polar bear, is doing even worse. Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper has officially walked out on the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Despite the fact that more than half of Canadians feel the country is not doing enough in addressing climate change, the Harper government is taking us backwards. Besides making liars of all of us, this fossil fuel crony has been pushing the dirtiest, most reprehensible energy projects with as little oversight as possible.
These actions (or inaction) by leading nations are a real concern, not only for their major contribution to the problem (the opulent energy usage of North America and the large population of a rapidly-industrializing China make for huge greenhouse gas contributions), but the effect it will have on energy policies throughout the world. While island nations are fighting hard for significant action, small fossil-fuel reliant states are afraid of bearing the economic brunt of energy infrastructure changes. Belarus is currently leading the charge to bail on saving the world, and it’s hard to say boo if our richer countries aren’t doing any better.
We even see hypocrisy amongst those who should be setting an example. The World Bank, after just releasing a report on the danger of the world’s average temperature increase reaching four degrees Celsius, is now looking into funding a mine with a coal-fired plant.
Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, tries to put it all into perspective. In her op-ed she reminds readers that any major energy transition takes time. We can still get an agreement, and, not to put too fine a point on it, we really have to.
But is it time for a different approach? Some experts are saying there are just too many players involved for this process to work. The mathematics of combinations make for too many intersecting relationships and interests when groups get very large, let alone the 194 countries represented in the United Nations. Too many cooks spoil the broth — the broth in this case being a binding international agreement.
In this view, it’s time to put an end to these summits entirely. Instead, perhaps the U.S. and China, as the leading emitters, should come up with a technology-sharing green development agreement that includes major emission reductions on a cooperative basis. With U.S. technology and Chinese manpower, transforming the industrial economies of both nations might suddenly seem very doable.
The agreement made, other nations might then join in, remaking the world in a truly collaborative process. That’s my proposed New Year’s Resolution for the world’s political leaders, in particular those of the above-mentioned nations.
It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Why do we lack the political will when the threat is so dire? Perhaps we need a resolution for the rest of us, as well. As voting citizens and outspoken activists, why don’t we make inaction on this issue completely untenable politically? Someone like Stephen Harper should frankly have no chance of getting into political office. If we can’t manage to vote someone in who won’t doom the world, how can our species possibly endure?
Photo credit: NASA