I just wrote this op-ed for Next Gen Journal about new approaches to mitigating climate change. This is the first of four posts in this series:
The Durban climate conference is the latest example of an international conference that has attempted to reach a binding, meaningful agreement on climate change mitigation policies–and failed. Some governments were unwilling to compromise. Others simply will not participate. Yes, some progress was made at Durban. But it was hardly the major step towards climate change mitigation that some hoped for. The new “legal framework” that would set new binding emission reduction won’t take effect until 2020. Yet in 2010, CO2 emissions increased 6%2. 2011 was a year of unprecedented extreme weather and glacial melting. Now, more than ever, serious commitments to phasing out fossil fuels and developing renewable energy are needed.
While this international failure is tragic, it is not surprising. Each country is unique with its own challenges, culture, and growth rates. Each country is also affected by climate change in a different way. The idea that one treaty can encompass the diverse qualities and needs of every country does not make sense. There is not enough common ground to create a long-lasting binding treaty. We don’t have time to wait for the magic conference that inspires developing and developed nations to agree to significant emissions reductions. National governments must take the initiative to create binding legislation in their own countries. These actions should be coordinated on an international level to effect the most change, but this process must take into account local customs and trends.
The situations in the United States, Bolivia, and China illustrate this concept. I am an environmental activist in the US and have traveled throughout Bolivia and China, studying environmentalism along the way. By studying these cultural attitudes towards the environment, I realized that one international binding agreement cannot encompass the diverse needs of each nation. On the most basic level, the US is a developed, capitalistic country. Bolivia is a developing agricultural and mining nation. China is the fastest growing nation in the world, with a population more than three times that of the US. Attempts to reconcile these differences at climate conferences have failed. Of course we all depend on this planet to sustain us. We feed off the land, drink the water, and feel the sun. But there is no numerical target that would suit even just these three countries. Therefore, a new approach is necessary.
Nations must create meaningful binding legislation that suits their customs and needs. This should include both emissions reduction targets and policies that are specifically suited for each country. These actions can be coordinated on an international level to ensure that each country is doing its proportional share towards mitigating climate change and transitioning to a low-carbon green economy. Developing countries cannot be free-riders, and developed countries must take the most ambitious actions. If each country takes responsibility, then an international approach will not be fraught with blame and bickering.
The next three installments of this series will illustrate this idea using different contexts and policy suggestions in the United States, Bolivia, and China.