Durban COP 17 Update – Why Climate Change Solutions are Failing
The annual UN conference of parties (COP) on climate change began in 1995 as a platform for nations to monitor, evaluate, and consider progress toward achieving global climate change reduction standards set forth by the Kyoto Protocol and other climate change agreements. Today, the COP is focused on saving the Kyoto Protocol and coming to other agreements that can alleviate the impending impacts of climate change globally. As is the case with most political arguments (and as has been perfectly demonstrated by the United States government over the past few months), the discussions we have witnessed so far have been relatively unproductive. Even the Green Climate Fund proposal (a proposal to deliver over $100B/year to developing countries to reduce emissions and improve alternative energy supply through 2020) is under protest by several countries, most notably the United States1.
What is the expected result of this inability to make progress on limiting carbon emissions? The International Energy Association recently published a report stating that, if nations continue to emit at scales we see today, the long-term goal of limiting average global temperature levels at 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will be dead and buried by 2017. Specifically, assuming we maintain the status quo, by 2017 for every plant built one would have to be destroyed in order to maintain this temperature level.
Why is this 2 degree temperature level important? This is the figure industrialized nations have set as the estimate for how much long-term temperature variation delicate ecosystems could handle. While there is some debate as to whether this level is completely accurate, there is no debate that achieving this goal is getting more hopeless by the day. Back in 2000, it was estimated that world emissions between 2000 and 2050 needed to be limited to 1,000 billion tons in order to achieve this target – we have burned through half of that figure already.
What is causing this failure? Most would blame the negotiators, diplomats, and politicians for not working together (one of the themes of the COP) to create change. Others would blame specific countries (i.e. the U.S., China, and India) for continuing to increase emissions. However, the one certainty in all of this is that playing this “blame game” isn’t getting us anywhere. In some cases, it is actually contributing to us regressing in our goals. The Western world points the finger at the Eastern world saying that the East needs to control its population, but the United States emits 14.6x that of India and 3.9x that of China on a per capita basis2. However, according to a recent Gallup poll3, only 50% of Americans believe that global warming has been caused by human activity even though an overwhelming majority of scientists and academics have stated this is the case.
These hypocrisies and contradictions will not be resolved until each of us accept the fact that we are changing the environment around us. We on a daily basis are contributing to the global climate problem. We as individuals need to change our habits, educate the masses on the issues at hand, and form groups dedicated to creating change. I’m as guilty of waste as everybody else – together, we must change quickly or accept the fact that future generations will pay for our mistakes.