The Road to Copenhagen: Transforming the World’s Energy Economy With 21st Century Solutions

Larry SchweigerThe piece below is my latest editorial from National Wildlife magazine

Carbon dioxide pollution knows no political boundaries. Decarbonizing every economy around the world must be our common goal.

In a few weeks, National Wildlife Federation will send a team to the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen to support world leaders striving to create an enforceable global agreement to cut carbon dioxide pollution. We will be demanding that assembled leaders produce a roadmap–with every nation participating this time–to collectively curb this massive pollution threat before it’s too late to avoid catastrophic climate changes that will spell unprecedented losses of wildlife all over the world in every ecosystem. We will demand firm reductions and timetables that match the best available science and we will press for the establishment of specific, enforceable targets proportional to each country’s contributions. Here are some of the key elements to a global deal.

Bold and verifiable goals

The 20 largest emitters known as the G-20 produce eighty percent of the carbon dioxide pollution. They include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States. These nations must lead the way and be accountable to cut their emissions on an aggressive timetable. Discussions leading up to Copenhagen have been marked by wrangling about who should do what and which countries should make the biggest emissions cuts. The U.S. and China together, now represent more than 40 percent of annual emissions so we both must do our fair share to cut future emissions. Copenhagen will fail unless scientifically-sound 2020 emissions targets are established for each of these countries and to establish a firm date for industrialized nations to begin cutting overall emissions. The actual atmospheric declines should start by no later than 2015 to minimize the real risks of runaway global warming.

Skipping 20th century mistakes

Many developing nations are rightfully looking for ways to build their own economies to provide for their people. It is critically important that we help them build clean energy economies, while avoiding fossil-fuels that increase global emissions. Instead, we need to help them adopt and deploy new, clean energy technologies to meet their needs. In other words, we want to help developing nations to go from the 19th century right into the 21th century bypassing our 20th century mistakes.

Think of it this way, many of the world’s poorest people have never made a phone call, if and when they do, it will be on a cell phone. When they get their first lights, they will be solar or wind-powered. They will be able to stop burning wood and dung for cooking and replace these soot-producing stoves with solar cookers.

Protecting Forests

Deforestation and continual degradation of forests represents about 20 percent of the total human-caused atmospheric carbon dioxide as trees remaining tropical rain forests, are vital stores of carbon. We must forge a global deal that helps developing countries protect remaining uncut forests by providing financial incentives to reduce future deforestation and degradation. Properly executed, this will help mitigate climate change, provide protection for extravagant biodiversity in rainforests and help the poor develop in sustainable ways. All of this must be sensitive to and address various social, institutional and political drivers that trigger destructive forest losses.

Storing Carbon in Second-Growth Forests and Agricultural Soils

Because it will take time to transition large coal-fired power plants and industrial facilities, we must invest in carbon offsets that fund farmers who increase their carbon storage in soils and pay forest landowner for delaying timber harvests by 30-40 years to get additional carbon storage from older trees.

The December meeting will bring together world leaders and their environmental ministers to forge an agreement to succeed the Kyoto climate change treaty that expires in 2012. Many of us were hoping that the election of Barack Obama signaled to the world that the US would now play a strong leadership role in Copenhagen by tackling climate change with a new law that would set a firm foundation for U.S. action. President Barack Obama went to Copenhagen in October in a failed attempt to support Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, it is yet to be seen whether or not he will return as a world leader determined to forge a climate agreement that protects the future of all children.

The U.S. House of Representatives under the able leadership of Speaker Pelosi has passed a foundational bill that will enable President Obama to lead. As of this writing, the Senate has not matched the House action. It is unclear whether the U. S. Senate will pass a bill in time to help shape the President’s role in the treaty decisions ahead. I remain hopeful that Senator Kerry and Senator Boxer can reach out to the Republican Senators and those swing Democrats from high-carbon states to forge a deal.

We are running out of time to save the planet, and the Copenhagen summit is a terribly important milestone. You should urge President Obama to lead the charge for a global deal and urge your Senators to act now to pass climate legislation to create millions of clean energy jobs, make our world more secure and to give wildlife this last chance.