Reporting from the Paris United Nations Climate Summit
Imagine a future in which the human has attained its full potential. Imagine a world in which the good of each human being and each species is considered in every decision made. — Jeanette C. Armstrong
Earth is heating up and greenhouse gases continue to rise, primarily due to our burning of fossil fuels. The goal at COP21 in Paris is to assure a livable planet. It takes collaboration and adjustment from everyone to slow the rate of climate change.
Imagine the challenge: Produce a plan to reduce carbon emissions and support a green economy so that the Earth doesn’t get too hot or too toxic. Your group represents 196 countries speaking five languages, and together you are to present a suitable agreement in two weeks approved by the heads of each country. At this writing, they’re still at it.
Each country had previously submitted a proposal for reducing their carbon emissions. Now, spinoff groups work on aspects of the document, refining it and creating a framework for action that will result in keeping our planet temperature from rising any more than two degrees Celsius. In fact, it’s not enough, but it would be a promising start.
There are positive notes:
• Twenty developing countries agreed to double their research and development spending in the energy solutions of the future. Further, 26 entrepreneurs and business leaders, including Bill Gates, promised to invest part of their wealth toward bringing energy solutions of the future to rapid deployment. Smart money is transitioning to low-carbon technologies.
• The Government of Alberta in western Canada announced that by 2030, it would completely phase out all of its coal-fired power, implement a renewable portfolio standard of 30 percent, introduce a carbon tax at $30 per ton, grow energy efficiency and clean energy like wind and solar, and set a cap on emissions from tar sands.
And yet, many of our U.S. politicians still claim to wonder if climate change is real despite increasingly strong scientific evidence. Kitty van der Heijden, ambassador for sustainable development for the Netherlands said, “We must manage the unavoidable.”
It may be too late for many. Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, the Maldives, the Seychelles and Fiji are top-list tourist destinations with their pristine landscapes, lush vegetation and perceived remoteness. Yet, as global temperature rises, it triggers the loss of ice, then triggering sea level rise. This is the center of the problem concerning small island nations.
A young Alaskan is attending COP21 with the Sierra Student Coalition because his village is being inundated by seawater rise. Yet most people in his small village cannot afford to move.
Meanwhile, the delegates are arguing about the language in Article 2 (Purpose of the Paris Agreement). This refers to protection of natural ecosystems, just transition of the workforce, and creation of decent work, human rights for all, including indigenous people, and gender equality. Some feel that this should not be part of Article 2 where it would be legally binding, but part of the preamble and not binding.
The U.S. wants to move it to the preamble; Brazil and Canada want to keep it in, and the Netherlands would like to move it to a mitigation section. No matter where it is, it should be kept in the plan, because a transition with people’s well being in mind is the fair and just way to think. These are the types of arguments that are proceeding behind closed doors.
Outside, the people have shown up. When terrorist acts in Paris caused large marches to be canceled, people, including Pope Francis, donated 20,000 pairs of shoes to a symbolic march calling for climate action. Thousands of organizations’ representatives and citizens are attending educational programs, visiting booths, and holding concerts to say we can’t wait any longer. What we do today will truly make a difference in the quality of all life, everywhere.
Sandra Kurtz is an environmental community activist and is presently working through the Urban Century Institute. You can visit her website to learn more at enviroedu.net