COP-21: Crunch time in Paris

Aug 04, 2015

More than 195 nations will meet in Paris in December to decide what might be the long term fate of the world – and that’s no exaggeration.

It is crunch time for the world to decide whether or not to face up to and “defuse” the ticking time bomb called climate change or be consigned to an irreversible tipping point of no return. The clock is ticking as the ravages of climate change grind on. A little background:

The upcoming Conference of the Parties (COP-21) meeting in Paris is part of the ongoing UN-led effort to address climate change. The December session is considered pivotal in that its objective is to produce a binding, universal agreement on addressing climate change starting in 2020 – the time at which current commitments on greenhouse gas reductions run out.

Pre-positioning efforts are taking place worldwide. A sure tip-off of its importance was the landmark agreement announced between the United States and China in November 2014 to curb carbon emissions. (See: The Political Paradox of Climate Change)The two super powers, accounting for about a third of all global emissions today, were conspicuous non-players in the earlier Kyoto Accords. Their notable presence this time around is a signal that it’s time for every nation to get into the game.

Even Pope Francis weighed in with his recent encyclical on climate change calling for a new dialogue on shaping the future of the planet. Make no mistake; the nations of the world are serious about and heavily engaged in planning and developing their pledges for carbon emission reductions in preparation for COP-21. (See: Climate Change: A Few Myths and Some Hard Realities)

Yesterday, August 3, the White House/EPA announced its “Clean Power Plan” to change the way Americans produce and consume electricity. Shifting our electrical power generation toward cleaner fuels and healthier consumption practices, it will be part of our pledge to the COP-21 effort. As a global leader, our response will be closely followed by the world and will, undoubtedly, influence the respective pledges of other nations to the COP-21 initiative.

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan was loudly attacked and lawsuits threatened before the plan was even announced yesterday. In this presidential campaign season, it will continue to be a lightning rod for rhetoric and the never-ending quest for campaign dollars. The issues will be obfuscated and dreadful pictures of economic devastation, job losses and skyrocketing electric bills will be painted if the new plan is fully instituted.

In this mix, it will be easy to gloss over the big picture and forget what is really at stake. Consider this:

  1. Our current global warming trajectory will take us well beyond the danger level in the next few decades. We are feeling the impacts now, and it is nearing a tipping point that could soon be irreversible. Our time to act is running out.
  2. Slowing or reversing the trajectory is a daunting task requiring major surgery – not Band-Aids. Major challenges require major responses: We, as a nation, have the ability to lead the charge provided we can find the political will to do so.
  3. The initial cost of implementation may increase short term energy costs, but the longer term costs of doing nothing will be infinitely greater. More important, the new economic opportunities, engines for growth, and healthful living attendant to a revamped clean energy system are transformational game-changers.
  4. Last, we are part of a global community and climate change is a global issue. No nation will ever get everything they want, so let’s be part of the global solution; not the problem.  We took a pass on the Kyoto Treaty the first time around; let’s not repeat that mistake.

Closing comment: A lot of air time will be dedicated in the coming months to climate change and clean energy issues. If we can get beyond the myopic, gobbledygook we’ll be fed and take a longer term look at what’s really at stake, we have a chance. If not for us; then for our kids.

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