Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blog Action Day: Climate Change - Social Justice & A Matter of Survival

I won't be able to post on Blog Action Day itself, so I'm posting a day early. Climate Change is the issue du jour, and a timely one it is! With the United Nations meeting on Climate Change coming up in Copenhagen December 7-18, 2009, you can visit their official COP15 website. The incoming president of COP15, Connie Hedegaard, has some inspiring comments here about why the nations of the world MUST come to agreement to reduce carbon emissions at Copenhagen. "Failure in Copenhagen is not an option," she says.

She calls Copenhagen a “window of opportunity” which should not be missed, arguing that it may take years to rebuild the momentum.

“If we don’t deliver in Copenhagen, then I cannot see when again you can build up a similar pressure on all the governments of this world to deliver. So I think we should be very, very cautious not to miss the opportunity,” says Hedegaard, adding that “it would be irresponsible not to use the momentum now”.

Connie Hedegaard is basing her optimism on the fact that nations, after months of political stalemate, began to come forward in September and show their positions. Japan, China, India and Indonesia are some of these “key players” who, according to Hedegaard, have brought new momentum to the climate negotiation process.

“In that sense,” she says, “Copenhagen has already delivered results. If we hadn’t had that deadline, these governments would not have come forward with their targets. They are doing so because they know the deadline is coming closer, and they must start to deliver.”

To effectively break the deadlock, however, two more requirements must be fulfilled. Politicians, including heads of state, need to become more actively involved. And developed countries need to come forward with specifics on finance.

“They cannot just continue to talk about finance. They must show – prove – to the developing world, we know that we are going to pay, or there will be no agreement. And the sooner the developed countries deliver on finance, the better.”

Hedegaard admits that the technicalities of the negotiation process are extremely complex, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for not striking a political, binding deal.

“We know what we ought to do on mitigation, on reductions, on adaptation, on technology and on finance. Well, yes, it’s difficult. But my bet is, it’s not going to get any easier by postponing decisions.”

In order to reach an agreement in December, “as little as possible” should remain to be solved when negotiators arrive in Copenhagen. The high-level section of COP15 is only three days, four at the most. Therefore the negotiation text must be rid of “square brackets” – at this point there are still 2,500 remaining – and the political options must be made very clear before the politicians arrive on the stage, says Connie Hedegaard.

Her personal success criteria for Copenhagen?

“I think what matters is that we, when we depart from Copenhagen, with credibility can say we brought the world on the right track, on a track that makes it credible that we can stay below the two degrees average increase in temperature worldwide. That is basically the success criteria we must try to deliver on.”

During the actual conference, Connie Hedegaard sees her own role as that of one who will be trying to mediate, find solutions and look for possible compromises. And provide a push or a nudge where it’s needed.

“It’s not so that the COP president, the host country, can just tell China or the United States or India what they are going to do. They will decide for themselves. But of course we will argue as strong as we can, push as strong as we can and try to seek solutions as much as we can.”

All through the year, Connie Hedegaard has been working to grease the climate wheels by participating in bilateral talks and informal meetings, thereby making herself acquainted with the positions of as many players worldwide as possible. Her own Greenland Dialogue is one of several series of climate discussions running parallel to the main UN track.

The U.S.
Meanwhile, the nations of the world are watching the United States with interest to see if there will be meaningful reductions in fossil fuel use, carbon emissions in this largest consumer country and world leader. After the inspiring rhetoric of President Obama's campaign and early presidency, the world and many in our nation have hoped for great things in this as in many other things. And yet, there are many conflicting interests in the U.S. As for many years, there are those who argue that evidence of "global warming" is manufactured or exaggerated, presenting evidence that they believe counters the prevailing scientific community's consensus. They often characterize the issue as the "climate change fraud," or "global warming scam." Exactly who do they suppose is perpetuating a fraud or scam? Who is going to profit?

These conspiracy-oriented websites fail completely, however, to explain why so many disinterested scientists come up with results that agree. In fact, some of the professional scientists who speak up most strongly about the need for radical change in the way we do business and live our lives do so at great professional and personal risk. James Hansen, of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space, has been publishing and speaking about the dangers of continuing high fossil-fuel use and climate change for many years now, and has testified before Congress on these issues numerous times. Since 1967, his work for the Goddard Institute has been to model global climate. Beginning in 1988, Hansen's predictions disturbed him so much that he stepped out of his lifelong scientific demeanor and began to speak publicly about the long-term threat from heat-trapping gasses, most prominently CO2, that result from burning fossil fuels. He has had run-ins with politicians or their appointees in various administrations, including the H.W. Bush administration and Vice President Al Gore. In 2001, Hansen was actually invited twice to brief Vice President Cheney and other cabinet members on climate change, and some of his ideas were of early interest to the second Bush administration. But by 2004, he began to fall out of favor, and by 2006, Hansen said in interviews that he was being muzzled by the administration, and objected to attempts to censor his scholarly and public communications.

Dr. Hansen and most other climate specialists see the world rapidly approaching a "tipping point" beyond which the change in the global climate would be irreversible. Slowing fossil fuel use NOW is the only way to stop our rapid slide toward this unstoppable change in global climate. It is all too easy to joke about changes in the climate making things nicer by warming winter in New England, for instance. The terrible effects would actually make our children and grandchildren curse our generation for fiddling while our civilization began to burn around us! The magic level of CO2 needs to be reduced to no more than 350 parts per million (ppm); we already have 387 ppm, and rising! Dr. Hansen has found that
Earth’s history shows that an atmospheric CO2 amount of say 450 ppm eventually would yield dramatic changes, including sea level tens of meters higher than today. (snip)it is clear that if we burn all the fossil fuels, or even half of remaining reserves, we will send the planet toward the ice-free state with sea level about 250 feet higher than today. It would take time for complete ice sheet disintegration to occur, but
a chaotic situation would be created with changes occurring out of control of future generations. (snip)

The obvious conclusion is that the only practical way to avoid climate catastrophe is to terminate emissions from the largest fossil fuel source: coal, the dirtiest of the fossil fuels. If coal emissions are phased out between 2010 and 2030, global fossil fuel emissions would begin to fall rapidly... (snip)
Hansen then examines two competing solutions: cap and trade and an actual carbon fee. He concludes that cap and trade has no hope of actually reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere to the needed 350 ppm. Hansen lays out his plan for a carbon fee and explains how high it would need to be to become effective. He calculates $115 per ton of CO2 produce, would cost an extra $1 per gallon of gasoline, yet, based on fossil fuel use in 2007, produce
$670 billion, enough to provide a dividend (rebate) for each legal adult resident of almost $3000 per year. With half a share per child for a maximum of two children per family, the rebate would be $9000 per year for a family with two or more children. The carbon fee would provide a strong incentive to replace inefficient infrastructure. It would spur the economy. It would spur innovation. In this fee and rebate approach, a tipping point would be reached as energy efficiency and carbonfree energies become cheaper than fossil fuels. We would then transition rapidly to the era beyond fossil fuels, leaving most remaining coal in the ground, and avoid the need to go to extreme environments to find every drop of oil. We must move beyond fossil fuels anyhow. Why not do it sooner, for the benefit of our children? The fee rate would need to increase in time, but when gas hits $4 per gallon again most of that $4 will stay in the United States, as dividends. Our vehicles will not need as many gallons. We will be well on the way to energy independence.

Social Justice
The richest countries have been the ones burning the fossil fuels for the longest time and in the largest amounts. We have exported some of them from poorer countries. We certainly are in a position to protect ourselves better from the results of climate change as it begins to happen. We can build sea walls and dikes and shore up our beaches, move our houses, and otherwise protect ourselves better as rising sea levels begin to encroach on low-lying areas. Of course, there is only so much you can do if the seas are going to ultimately rise 250 feet, as James Hansen suggests!

Here is an excellent introduction to some of the social justice issues of climate change. One excellent portion addresses the question of why should less wealthy nations have different emissions reduction targets than the wealthiest nations.

Here are the Bali Principles of Climate Justice, released in 2002, by a coalition of nations meeting in Johannesburg. The Unitarian Universalists issued a Statement of Conscience in 2006. And has a helpful and informative website.

An update from the ever-helpful RIPS Law Librarian Blog dated 3/2010, a list of excellent U.S. climate change legal resources. A tip of the OOTJ hat to Yasmin Alexander who created this excellent post!


Tor Hershman said...

Climate Change: The climate changes

Social Justice: hahaheehee ha

A Matter of Survival: Divided we fall, united we fall.

Stay on groovin'
(It's either Jungle or Zoo)

Betsy McKenzie said...

he government of the Maldives is preparing for the rising ocean levels by diverting some portion of income towards purchasing a new homeland in case its island home is completely overwhelmed... see slashdot entries at

At least this government has some resources and is planning ahead. There are other island nations that are not so fortunate.