Opinion

An Unacceptable Timeline by Laura Rigell

14 November 2013

Three years ago, had the privilege in 2010 to attend COP16 in Cancun, Mexico.  The previous conference (COP15 in Copenhagen) had been structured with the goal of replacing the Kyoto Protocol with another international binding treaty for climate action.  Leading up to Copenhagen, observers expressed high hopes that all countries of the world, for the first time including the US, would commit to reduce their emissions.   At Copenhagen, negotiators reaffirmed their promise to avoid dangerous anthropogenic climate change, quantifying “dangerous” as warming greater than 2 degrees.  Two degrees temperature rise will probably lead to the permanent flooding of many small island states.  We have already seen more intense weather disasters.  Because 2 degrees is eliminates the existence of some people, I spent my time in Cancun advocating for its revision to 1.5 degrees.

To my disappointment, but perhaps unsurprisingly, I return to the UNFCCC process to find that their timeline for action has only become more egregious.  Many countries ditched on the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which is in effect now.  The emission reduction targets in Kyoto have certainly not prevented global emissions from steadily climbing.

Rather than enforce the targets of Kyoto or efficiently replace that treaty with a more inclusive one, countries have instead continued to kick the can down the road.  I learned before going to COP15 that global emissions actually must peak before 2015 in order to avert runaway climate change.   Rather than taking this less-than-precautionary approach, the UNFCCC has created an even more relaxed timeline.

Countries are required to submit emission reduction proposals by 2015, when an agreement will be finalized.  This agreement will not go into effect until 2020.  At the United States’ urging, countries will be proposing their own reduction targets.   I do not believe that self-designed targets would ever be sufficiently ambitious.  Regardless, I think the extended timeline for implementation will lead to runaway climate change.  I respect the United States youth delegations, such as SustainUS, who are pressuring our country to take bolder leadership.

 

Day of Departure by Laura Rigell

13 November 2013

This afternoon, I will be departing with Professor Carol Nackenoff and Alex Ahn ’15 for the United Nations climate negotiations in Poland.  This is the 19th annual conference (COP19) hosted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  As of last week, I took Ben Goloff’s place on the delegation.  Because this change in plans was rather last minute, the process of preparation has been a whirlwind.

As the reality of this trip has sunk in, I have been on the verge of feeling excited.  Such anticipation seems warranted, since this trip is an enormous privilege.   After all, Swarthmore is funding my travel to Warsaw, Poland to join the negotiators of the world and many mobilized constituencies at an international gathering to address climate change.

Honestly though, I depart for this conference with a deep sadness.  Usually, I consider myself an optimist, and I am excited by the grassroots climate justice work happening across the world.  I still believe that it is physically possible to avert catastrophic climate change.  But the timeline currently being pursued by the United Nations is simply unacceptable.

Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines as the COP 19 began on Monday.  10,000 people are estimated to have died.  Haiyan is an example of the increased hurricane intensity in warmer climate.  Human lives are being sacrificed while negotiations stall.  This is simply unacceptable.

As COP19 takes place, Poland is constructing new coal-fired power plants.  Also alongside the COP, the World Coal Association will be convening in Warsaw.  Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UNFCCC and a Swarthmore alumnus, will be participating in this Coal conference.  It is unacceptable for Poland or Figueres to endorse the fossil fuel industry while discussing climate change. Climate change is already happening, yet global carbon emissions are still on the rise.

As a result, I am departing for the conference in agreement with Arundhati Roy, Indian author and activist, who stated: “If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings.  It lives low down on the ground, with its arms around the people…”

I realize that I am launching this blog from a heavy place.  I firmly believe that runaway climate change can still be averted, and that the negotiators who I will be encountering in Poland have the obligation to do all in their power for climate justice.  I will communicate this urgency to the negotiators who I meet.  I do look forward to meeting the conference attendees who share my desperation for bold international action on climate change, for we are powerful together.

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