09/18/2013 06:03 pm ET Updated Nov 18, 2013

The International Community's 'Responsibility to Protect' Should Include Climate Change

This week marks the 14th anniversary of former Secretary General Kofi Annan's speech to the General Assembly when he addressed the prospects for humans security and international intervention in the 21st century.

"As we seek new ways to combat the ancient enemies of war and poverty, we will succeed only if we all adapt our Organization to a world with new actors, new responsibilities, and new possibilities for peace and progress," he said. "It has revealed the core challenge to the Security Council and to the United Nations as a whole in the next century: to forge unity behind the principle that massive and systematic violations of human rights -- wherever they may take place -- should not be allowed to stand."

Annan called for a new approach to international intervention in an increasingly globalized world. His speech was the precursor to the development of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), a norm developed by the international community to address its struggle to respond to genocide and other large-scale atrocities.

Despite Annan's plea 14 years ago, the international community is still largely ignoring one of the most crucial human security issues of the 21st century: global warming. And international organizations are taking notice.

According to the Associated Press, one of the United Nations' top climate officials said Tuesday that international leaders are failing to fight global warming.

Halldor Thorgeirsson, a senior director with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, told journalists that "we are failing as an international community" and that the world is "not on track" to prevent potentially catastrophic climate change.

The international community has traditionally intervened using R2P in countries that experienced large-scale armed conflict and high civilian death tolls such as Kenya and Libya. But the international community should also use R2P to intervene on behalf of climate change. According to environmentalist Dr. James Lovelock, climate change will result in "billions of us dying before the end of the century." If the international community were to embrace R2P and apply it to climate change, it could protect against the human cost associated with energy production.

Models for economic development have relied on the exploitation energy production for over a hundred years. However, the burning of fossil fuels is beginning to reveal its environmental cost, as it did when Hurricane Sandy struck the Eastern seaboard last year -- costing taxpayers about $60 billion.

The pace of the changeover from fossil fuel energies to renewable energies is slow -- much too slow to prevent more catastrophic impacts of climate change. According to a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, fossil fuels will "continue to supply more than three-fourths of total world energy consumption in 2040" -- only a 5 percent reduction from today.

Members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change chose to extend the Kyoto accord from 2013 to 2020. A more comprehensive climate control regime is scheduled to be negotiated before the end of Kyoto's phase out period.

But even if an appropriate emissions reduction system is adopted over the next several years, these targets are not slated to come into force until 2020. The international community can use R2P to reduce emissions in this time.

Since 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has provided assessment reports on the state of the environment. The IPCC's next report will only reinforce what we already know: human-induced climate change is causing catastrophic damages to the environment.

The international community can prevent the catastrophic impacts of climate change by using the emerging concept of R2P to create interventionist policies that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. It is within the confines of supranational bodies like the World Trade Organization (WTO) that we can find solutions to climate change using R2P.

By including the cost of pollution into a country's products, the WTO can reduce global emissions. The result of this proposal would affect the way firms invest, driving resources into cleaner production methods.

"Emissions regulation without carbon tariffs limits legislators' ability to impact levels of production and shifts to cleaner technologies," Professor David Drake said in a 2011 report published by Harvard Business School.

R2P can be also be used to provide funding for forest to sequester carbon dioxide -- the principal greenhouse gas. According to the last IPCC report, the enhancement of forest sinks must also be used to reduce increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The idea was pioneered by a group of countries known as the Rainforest Alliance. The goal is to sell carbon offsets for new forests and avoided deforestation. Countries would be compensated for maintaining the enormous environmental benefits their rainforests embody.

According to the Human Development Index Report 2013, "The longer action is delayed, the higher the cost will be." Using R2P to intervene on behalf of climate change will legitimize this generation's duty to protect our descendents.

The international community should work to correct catastrophic climate change now by implementing R2P because as explained by environmental author and scientist Jared Diamond, "the world's environmental problems will get resolved in one way or another. The only question is whether they will become resolved in pleasant ways of our own choice, or in unpleasant ways not of our choice."