It's going to take a lot more than the bureaucratic and chaotic process I watched in Poznan over the past two weeks for us to cut global warming emissions as deeply and quickly as scientists say is necessary.
I am not the only one who feels this way. Bill McKibben of 350.org, Al Gore, Dr. James Hansen, and most recently the Alliance of Small Island Nations (AOSIS) are all calling for deeper cuts in emissions and for public actions to turn things around. The path to a global deal in Copenhagen, just one year from now, will not be successful unless we have a louder, and more visible, bottom-up push for change. It's time to get serious about mass mobilization.
The United Nations Convention on Climate Change held in Poznan, Poland from December 1-12 did make a few baby steps forward. In the end, the European Union upheld its commitment to cut carbon dioxide emissions 20% by 2020 and developing countries such as South Africa, Mexico and South Korea put forward constructive proposals to reduce their global warming emissions. Progress was made in discussions of an Adaptation Fund to help developing nations and especially island nations adjust to the immediate impacts of climate change. The Europeans for the first time said they would look seriously at the financing proposals of the developing nations represented by the G77. The Danes did an excellent job of keeping all negotiating tracks moving and the convention resulted in a clear timetable of extensive meetings between now and next December when a new treaty is supposed to be completed. At the same time, heads of state from the 27 members of the European Union met in Brussels to discuss the fiscal crisis and climate talks in Poznan. In the end, the European Union's 27 leaders endorsed a plan for a 20% cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020.
But the good news stops there.
Under the accord reached by the EU heads of state, industrial sectors such as cement, steel and chemicals will receive free carbon emission permits at least up to 2020. This concession was pushed by Germany, the country formerly seen as the continent's climate champion. In a cap and auction scheme, companies must pay to pollute by purchasing global warming pollution permits through an auction. Unfortunately, these huge industries will be given free permits. Poland also pushed hard to exempt their dirty coal plants and electric power sector. They will be partly exempt from paying for permits between 2013 and 2020. The European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, was quoted in the Financial Times as admitting that the terms of the accord created the risk of windfall profits for some of the EU's biggest polluters. According to several sources, including leaders from the wind industry with whom I spoke directly, lobbying by the coal, cement, steel and fossil fuel companies was furious, relentless and ultimately overwhelming in the context of the European fiscal meltdown. According to a senior EU Commission official quoted in the Financial Times, "about 90% of European manufacturers would qualify for free carbon permits under the package." In addition to these fundamental shortcomings, there was little progress on the REDD structure with lack of agreement on how to design a program for reducing deforestation and protecting forests.
This deal won't result in adequate CO2 reductions in the time we have. The last minute demands of the power plant and industrial sectors are a likely predictor of what we can expect in the States as groups battle for a strong climate bill in Congress. Lets face it, the U.S. fossil fuel lobby makes the European coal companies look like wimps.
So what to do? I don't think we'll get meaningful policy in Washington, D.C. or in Copenhagen without a more fundamental shaking of the system. We must try new strategies and magnify the public demand for transformational rather than incremental change. The politics of climate policy and international negotiations are mired down but the science of climate change is red hot. A growing number of experts and governments insist we must adopt a target of 350 ppm or 1.5 degrees C as the threshold for safe emissions. Right now atmospheric concentrations of CO2 stand at 387 parts per million, increasing by about 2 parts per million each year. We need a more fundamental and fast turn away from fossil fuel.
Here's what you can do right now to push for transformational change:
- Become a Climate Precinct Captain and take things into your own hands by organizing locally: local.1sky.org. We've developed an online tool to facilitate a constant offline drumbeat of action in every Congressional district across the country. Once you sign up for the tool, get at least ten neighbors and friends to get involved with the 1Sky campaign. E-mail Ada@1sky.org with questions.
- Organize a 350 action for October 24, 2009 by signing on to 350.org and making sure that the world hears us loud and clear before next year's Copenhagen summit.
This is not a time to just take advice from those of us in DC. It is time for every rabble rousing, child-loving, planet protecting person to get clear that we will not be okay unless we disrupt business as usual.