World diplomats met at Poznan, Poland last week in an effort to work toward a 2009 Copenhagen Conference where a draft to replace the Kyoto Protocol is expected. U.S. diplomats, at the direction of lame-duck Bush, hemmed and hawed and stymied efforts to make progress in North America. Joining Bush’s efforts to delay action were Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The news from the European Union was slightly more positive – they announced preliminary efforts to cut CO2 emissions by 2020. The rate at which they do so is up for discussion, as there are different ways to measure cuts. Diplomats claimed they are shooting for a 20% reduction of CO2 emissions by 1990 standards by 2020. Some environmental groups countered that the net effect of the system presented would only reduce emissions by 4%.
At this early stage, I think I’m closer to agreeing with the critics due to the methods announced. EU countries would be able to sponsor green projects in developing countries – use offsets in other words. That doesn’t reduce their actual emissions, which is what will have to be done eventually. The longer we wait to do so, the more expensive and disruptive it will be. Further, it seems liklier to me that officials are willing to say they’re doing something in feel-good gestures rather than force a shift of their constituents’ lifestyles. Too many people are passing the responsibility down to the next generation. If a crisis occurs, it will be too late to continue this deceitful practice. That’s the biggest problem with having politicians deciding which actions to take. I suppose the good news is taking some action today could help decisions to take more action later.
What will change things worldwide is a new American President. Thankfully, President-elect Obama appears to be making a new energy and climate change policy a priority in his future administration. It will take somebody that is bold to bring bold change to the way things are done. The biggest question right now is can Obama make a difference prior to the 2009 Copenhagen Conference? Given the plate-full of disasters that Bush is merrily passing along (see a trend?), I’m starting to think action within the U.S. will be difficult to achieve in the first year of an Obama presidency. It won’t be impossible and I am in no way advocating for Obama to do nothing. But I think an honest assessment of the possibilities before us should be made. I do think that an economic recovery is dependent on the development of green economy and not the other way around. Another point of good news: states that have taken the lead in initiating action will help Obama’s programs get off the ground. Real-life examples of how 21st century energy policies create good American jobs and boost economies can already be made. They just need to be publicized better.
That assessment includes realizing that the fossil fuel industries will fight every little piece of progress that Obama and others can and will put forward. Nothing that involves a change from the status quo will meet with their approval. Remember that as you continue to pay high prices for every kind of fuel: your money is going to pay for executives and lobbyists to convince Congress not to change any energy policies. That’s millions of dollars of your and my hard-earned money. They’ll happily use our money to fund PR campaigns to tell us they’re fighting for us to keep our hard-earned money. They’ve done it for a generation and look where it’s left us.
The big picture is this: the next Protocol will need to call for countries to make challenging but attainable changes. CO2 concentrations must be brought back under 350ppm, 37ppm less than what is present today. That means emissions must slow down, stall, then decrease. The next Protocol is supposed to take effect in 2012. If our habits haven’t changed by then, it will be more difficult and more expensive to change those habits. Of course, we’re likely to be responding to the climate forcing that has already occurred at the same time we paying to change our habits. Those costs will compound quickly, leaving us with fewer oppurtunities in the future to do things we want to do, above and beyond the things we need to do.