|Peter Bahouth, Executive Director
June 13, 2011
The Dangers of Delay
In Bonn, Germany last week diplomats and climate advocates gathered to build on the international framework for climate cooperation. As the UNFCCC nears its 20th birthday, this annual session was marked by difficulties sorting out the wording and scope of the agenda of its ‘implementing’ bodies. Despite near universal acclaim for the Cancun Agreements that laid out a modest, but detailed plan for the next phase of negotiations, work was stalled over differences of opinion of what decisions are actually ready to be implemented and what still needs more discussion and debate. By the end of the week, the negotiators were hard at work, engaged in productive conversations. But they wasted some valuable time.
UNFCCC’s Christiana Figueres briefs press on first day of the conference Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/unfccc/
UN climate chief Christiana Figueres is calling for world leaders to revise its 2 degree goal, aiming for a more protective level of 1.5. She also indicated that the world may have to resort to geoengineering technology that sucks greenhouse gases from the air to stave off the worst effects of global warming. This call for greater ambition and extraordinary measures comes as new figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggest that prospects for reaching the 2 degree goal are even dimmer. Global emissions of energy-related carbon dioxide in 2010 were the highest ever.
Newsweek ran a great article recently illustrating the real costs of political bickering about climate. It asked, “Are you ready for more” extreme weather events that are the result of the climate altering pollution of our modern age. The article focused on the adaptation measures that will be needed as a result of decades of denial, disputes and delays. The reality of the stalemate on climate issues in the US, with ripple effects internationally, is that we now must tackle a more difficult and disparate set of policy choices. Adaptation is not something we must plan for in the future. It has become just as urgent as curbing the emissions that has caused the problem.
In an announcement that should have been greeted with cheers, American Electric Power (AEP), one of the nation’s largest power companies, announced that it was closing some its most polluting power plants, ‘blaming’ new EPA regulations for forcing the shut down. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) both set the record straight in statements/blogs that are worth reading. Over a decade ago, this same company was sued by the Clinton Administration to avoid existing clean air rules that required modern pollution controls be installed on any modified power plant. The delays EPA rules AEP seeks, supported by Congressmen Dingell, Upton and Whitfield and Senator James Inhofe, is just another in a long line of delay strategies the utility industry has been using for over a decade. There is simply no more time to waste.
As climate advocates, we find ourselves in a war that has at least two fronts. First, we have to defend and implement the laws on the books, both domestically and internationally. Despite its smokescreen, AEP’s actions are proving that those laws can have real and beneficial effects for public health, the environment, and the economy. Second, we must seek new policies, investments and actions that will dramatically reduce emissions and enable both US cities and states, along with vulnerable nations, adapt to the reality of climate change. The risks and costs of both mitigation and adaptation measures only go up the longer we delay. Military experts are becoming increasingly vocal about the threats to our national security that will result if fail in this task. If politicians and industry continue to play games with the climate, what is now a war of words may become real life conflict over natural resources and climate refugees.
Angela Anderson, Program Director