Friday, December 18th, 2009 was one of the saddest days of my career. The Copenhagen Climate Conference had ended with a non-binding Copenhagen Accord. And no on knew what it meant. When I returned to the negotiating center, it was as empty as the Copenhagen Accord. The NGO and government leaders had abandoned the center. And the Accord’s emission reduction commitments were blank:
On January 31st, we got to see what the pledges are. The small island nation of the Maldives has committed to 100% mitigation by 2020. The Maldives foreign minister announced “The Maldives’ submission of its mitigation action is voluntary and unconditional...The Maldives looks forward to its mitigation action being registered and publicly available.” That’s leadership.
The United States has committed to reducing emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. While this is just 4% below 1990 levels, it is an important first step in moving the US economy from carbon growth to carbon decrease. While the scale may be off, the direction is at least (finally) right. As a US citizen, this commitment from the Obama administration is exciting: it means they are going to have find some way to reduce US emissions.
Some of the other nations to ratify the Copenhagen Accord have used other mechanisms. China and India have pledged to reduce the carbon intensity of their economies by 45% and 25%, respectively. This means for every dollar of gross domestic product those countries produce, they will decrease the amount of greenhouse gas that they emit. One way to think of this kind of commitment is an increase in the greenhouse gas efficiency of the economy.
Indonesia and other nations have committed to reduce their emissions below projected levels. This means that if current rates of change were to continue, Indonesia (for example) would emit a certain level of greenhouse gases. They have committed to reaching a target of 26% less than that level.
So what does this all mean? According to the Sustainability Institute, it means 3.9 degrees of warming. Well below the goal of 2 degrees, this political reality means we better get ready for a physical reality of climate chaos. I’m looking forward to sharing my ideas, and hearing your ideas, of how to find hope in a changing climate.
For more information on climate pledges, visit the USCAN webpage.
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