Paris Agreement

United Nations Climate Change Talks in Bonn

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The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international environmental treaty adopted and ratified by the UN in the early 1990s. The framework sets non-binding, unenforced limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual member countries with a single goal in mind: "stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system".
Between late April and early May, UN representatives met in Bonn Germany with the UNFCCC framework in mind, using the treaty to guide what have become regular meetings focused on the search for a transition in global energy consumption. The next annual climate conference will be held in Katowice, Poland in December. Here are a few of the key highlights of the recent meeting.

Urgency

Urgency remains a focus, specifically for Pacific Island nations. The Bonn meeting provided the backdrop for the Talana Dialogue, led by the Prime Minister and representatives from Fiji. This dialogue centers around the personal stores shared by 250 Fiji participants. These stories collectively inspire a necessary sense of speed and expediency in the search for climate solutions. Read more here.

Gender Equality

Gender equality plays an important role in the success and forward motion of climate change mitigation. The Gender Action Plan (https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/cp23_auv_gender.pdf) acknowledges that many of the known impacts of climate change will have a disproportionate effect on women, and climate policy should be gender-responsive and involve balanced representation during planning and implementation stages. This plan urges the advancement of women’s participation in ongoing talks and Read more here.

Job Creation

Talks in Bonn also focused on the green economy and job development over the next several decades as renewable and sustainable resource options come to the foreground for policy makers. According to research conducted by the International Labor Organization, the right policy moves can pave the way for 24 million new positions created globally by 2030. According to ILO Deputy Director-General Deborah Greenfield, an emerging green economy can help millions of people around the world overcome a life of poverty and improve financial opportunity for this and future generations.  The report accounts for the possibility that some regions (those that depend heavily on petroleum mining and extraction) may experience job declines during the transition, and that higher outdoor temperatures will cause some forms of labor to become more difficult and dangerous. Read more about this priority here.

Dialogue, speakers and panel discussions throughout the two-week event emphasized a critical point: that without actionable policy change, these positive predictions would not materialize. The political decision making process will need to be bold, decisive, and inclusive of voices from across the labor spectrum to generate timely change. 
 

Increasing Global Temperatures: What Happens Next? Our Executive Director Delivers a Message at Lafayette College

The impacts of climate change on coastal communities, resource distribution, and social and economic stability around the globe aren’t a future or speculative threat; they are real, and they are happening now. One of the most illuminating events—one that can provide us with volumes of tangible and intangible information about the threats we face—happens to be unfolding right now, in real time, in Puerto Rico.

The hurricane that struck Puerto Rico over the summer may have been just one of the season’s devastating storms, and of course Maria provided further evidence that as the planet warms, such storms are likely to increase in force and fury. But this specific storm also presents the global community with some insight into how humans are likely to react to such events in the future, how power grids, local economies, social structures, and even mental health may fall under the shadow of a changing planet.

Inder Comar, our executive director, gave a talk this past week at Lafayette College, and within the text of this short speech, he explains how hurricane Maria and its aftermath point us forward into an uncertain future. The climate is changing at a rate that is not yet under our control, and as the details of the Paris Agreement reveal, a temperature increase of two degrees will mark the point at which these changes are likely to slip free from our grasp altogether. Our best hope is to determine a course of action and implement that action before this “point of no return” is reached.

But of course, before we get there, several things must take place: Scientists and their findings must be understood and respected. The right questions must be posed. What exactly can we do? How can we change our output of waste and carbon emissions before it’s too late? And how can we shape global cultures and economies to level the playing field and protect marginalized communities that stand in the direct path of destruction? These are the communities that will be—and already are—our first wave of “climate refugees”, and their ranks are expected to increase dramatically over the next few decades as people leave their homes and cross their borders to seek shelter and resources that have become unavailable in their current locations. By the middle of the current century, this population may rise as high as two billion (for perspective, there are just over seven billion people on earth today). Where will they go, and how will the rest of the world accommodate them?

Inder’s words are difficult to hear, but they describe a connected world of real people, real-time events, real places under threat, and real needs that must be addressed and that are larger than any single lecture or any single set of data points. No matter how these issues are presented and regardless of how they are received, they are real, and they are upon us. It’s our task to find a place in our minds to hold this information and to process events and facts that challenge the capacity of the imagination.

It’s easy to turn away from these realities and close down, assuming that anything too large for us to handle will ultimately take care of itself. But if we face the situation with courage, we still have time to open ourselves to a grand possibility: that the events of our lifetimes may loom in significance over all other events in the course of human history. And since we’re here on earth at this moment, we can actually do something about this fact. We hold in our hands the power to save our own lives.

So why us? Why now? And most important: What should we do next?

Mitigating the Impact of Climate Change: Can the United States Still Lead the World?

During most of this week and last week, world leaders have gathered at a United Nations conference in Bonn Germany to discuss the looming threat of a warming planet, and while this meeting provides members of the global community with an opportunity to present ideas, share successes, express concerns, and discuss progress on climate change and related issues, the event also presents another opportunity, one that can influence the position of all players in the world community during the years and decades ahead: an opportunity to establish leadership in an arena that will have serious impact on international relationships and economies for years to come.

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The United States, once a prominent leader and respected force on the world stage, has seen its stature diminished by its dithering on climate change. In fact, the only official US representation at this conference involved a forum on Monday on the future of fossil fuels, and the US panel was staffed primarily by fossil fuel executives who took a firm position in defense of the coal and oil industries.

But as it happens, the official federal position on climate change isn’t the dominant position the US, and the meeting was also well attended by representatives from state capitols and city halls. Most Americans—including individuals, cities, and state governments—remain committed to the Paris Climate Agreement which was signed in 2015 and later rejected by the current administration. Polls show strong support for climate protection and transition to reliance on sustainable energy sources, despite the actions of the federal government to undermine these efforts. So which position will come out ahead, and will nations around the world, including the 200 in attendance at the conference, continue to respect the US and follow our lead?

After a three-year plateau, fossil fuel emissions are once again on the rise, and the urgency surrounding the global temperature increase has been paralleled by the efforts of several nations (including Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) to search for sustainable energy options as their economies swell and poverty declines within their borders. The conference will conclude later this week, and we’ll monitor international reactions as the event winds down. Contact our office to learn more.

Also, if you’re in the Easton, Pennsylvania area this Thursday, get in touch with us to learn about our Executive Director’s talk at Lafayette College!