May 30, 2015

Climate Change

Climate Change is a real and urgent challenge, and its harmful effects such as rising global temperatures, more extreme weather and rising sea level are already being felt around the world. Caused primarily by human activity, climate change compounds preexisting social stresses like disease, hunger, conflict and poverty and poses a serious danger to ecosystems, society as a whole and the ultimate habitability of our planet. Stopping the destruction of climate change requires immediate action at an international level, but without leadership from developed nations like the US, progress is unlikely.

Our work on climate change is led by our student Climate Change Campaign Team. Find out more about their priorities for 2011-12 below.

Why we should care:
Climate change may be the most important challenge facing today’s generation, and the gravest injustice behind a failure to act is that those who had no hand in causing the climate crisis feel its destruction the most. As one of the main culprits behind crisis—as well as the most powerful nation in the world—it is the responsibility of the US to lead the way in investing in the technology needed to adapt to those changes that are already occurring and alter our patterns of behavior to prevent them from becoming even more damaging in the future. However, such leadership has faltered in the face of sensationalism, rhetoric of climate skepticism, the financial influence of the harmful energy industry and the irrational fear that participation in international climate commitments will impinge upon American sovereignty.

However, when it comes to tackling climate change, today’s young people know there’s not a second to waste. All around the world, young people are rising up to tell our leaders that we won’t stand for any more empty promises, failed agreements or injustice. From our college campuses and city halls to COP conferences worldwide, our voices are being heard, and we’re seeing great progress, especially at the local levels. But, critical battles still need to be won in order to achieve climate adaptation and emissions mitigation on the global scale, and today the youth voice is needed more than ever.

How is climate change being addressed?
The climate crisis is real problem, but it has real solutions. In general, there are three pillars of a comprehensive strategy to fight climate change: mitigation, adaptation and finance. Mitigation refers to reducing current and future greenhouse gas emissions to prevent further warming (in general, it is agreed that emissions targets should be set so that the earth does not warm more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels). Adaptation consists of implementing coping mechanisms to adjust to the effects of climate change that are already occurring and that are guaranteed to occur in the future. This is especially essential for developing nations. Finally, finance involves coming up with new, robust funds to pay for the technological innovation and economic shifts that adaptation and mitigation require. However, adopting such a strategy at a global scale has required a level of national and international cooperation that thus far has been difficult to achieve at even a basic level.

International Level:

  • The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): In 1992, most of the world’s nations joined the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international treaty acknowledging that climate change exists, is primarily man-made, and is a global problem requiring international intervention. The Convention provides an intergovernmental forum for its 190 participating nations to share information and come together to launch national and international strategies for mitigating emissions and adapting to expected impacts (including the provision of financial and technological support to developing countries). However, over the years, the UNFCCC has failed to deliver concrete, effective and just international action.
  • COP17: The most recent meeting of the UNFCCC took place in December 2011 in Durban, South Africa. COP17 was a critical moment for international cooperation on climate change, especially due to its location. Deliberation ran the gamut from financing climate adaptation in poor countries, to new legal accords for reducing emissions. COP17’s outcome, known as the ‘Durban Platform’, is the critical next forward in the fight against climate change.
  • The Durban Platform: The main outcome of COP17, the Durban Platform is a landmark decision calling all nations–both developed and developing–to negotiate a new accord to cut carbon emissions by 2015, with enforcement beginning by 2020. Nations still adhering to the Kyoto Protocol agreed to enter a second phase of emission-reduction commitments until the new accord is ratified and implemented. The Green Climate Fund, aimed at financing climate adaptation initiatives in poor developing countries, finally launched, though it’s funding mechanism remains unclear. More details here.
  • Kyoto Protocol: The Kyoto Protocol was first adopted in 1997 by 37 industrialized nations. During the first commitment period, countries who signed and ratified the Protocol were bound to an average GHG emissions reduction of 5.2% from 1990 levels by 2012. The Protocol mandates such reductions be accomplished primarily through national measures but also provides supplemental “flexible” mechanisms, such as emissions-reduction projects in developing nations and emissions trading on a carbon market. Part of COP17’s outcome included an interim extension of the Kyoto Protocol, creating a second comittment period. However, Canada announced its withdrawal from the treaty.

National Level

  • Advancing ambitious national climate/energy laws in the US would not only help to reduce harmful emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change now, in the absence of an international agreement, but also helps to advance national positions, giving leaders the confidence to go further in formal UN negotiations. Domestically, switching to clean energy as a legislative policy would be a huge step forward in reducing the impact of humans on the environment. However, Congress has yet to pass anything of that nature, instead producing legislative defeats like with the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES, known commonly as the carbon-cap-and-trade bill), which passed in the House but never made it to a vote in the Senate.

Take action:
This year, AIDemocracy’s Climate Team is teaming up with ActionAid’s global Activista network to campaign around climate change. Together, we will be providing opportunities for you to take informed action around crucial moments including:

  • COP17: We called on the US delegation to commit to helping poor countries adapt to the impacts of climate change, express targets for reducing US emissions, and support the Green Climate Fund.
  • Biofuels: We are examining the impacts of biofuels and US subsidies of fossil fuels. Stay informed to hear about our upcoming actions!

Get involved! Join the conversation on our blog. Host an event or run a campaign on your campus. Speak to your decision-makers. Find our more on our Take Action! page. We accept applications for our Climate Change Campaign Team on an ongoing basis. Find out more on our Opportunities page.

Read more on this topic ...

Moving beyond the Durban disaster – it’s time to mobilise

By Ilana Solomon. We, the US climate community, have, by and large, become so dazzled and distracted by the prospect of a climate treaty that we have overlooked the one thing that can really create lasting change: social movements so fierce and unforgiving that policy makers have no choice but to take meaningful climate action. Since my first UN climate summit in Bali in 2007, I, like many of my colleagues in the US climate movement, have become engrossed in how to build a climate agreement to protect our planet and its people. We speak of targets and … [Read more...]

Canada formally withdraws from Kyoto Protocol

A day after UN-sponsored climate talks wrapped up in Durban South Africa, Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent made the announcement that Canada would be formally withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol. Although Canada, Japan and Russia said last year that they will not accept new Kyoto commitments, Canada is the first country to formally renounce this anti-global warming treaty. “The Kyoto Protocol does not cover the world’s largest two emitters, United States and China, and therefore cannot work,” Kent said. “It’s now clear that Kyoto is not the … [Read more...]

Youth Delegates at COP17

by Christian Bowe. Perhaps the most noteworthy participants of COP17 were the Youth Delegates representing their respective countries and organizations from all over the world. They were loud, fearless, concise and most of all, undeniably brilliant. When COP17 seemed destined to settle for minimal commitments, it was youth delegates who said we must do better. When major players attempted to be interested in what was only beneficial to them, it was youth delegates who reminded them that we’re all in this together. When negotiators talked about putting … [Read more...]

COP17: success or another cop-out?

UN Officials Meet at COP17

COP17 finally drew to a close Sunday morning, bringing an end to 13 days of tense negotiations that actually ran a day and a half overtime. Delegates of the 194 UN member states reached a landmark agreement which lays the groundwork for an extensive and far-reaching future accord. The final deal, the 'Durban Platform', establishes the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which will immediately begin work on a new legally-binding instrument that includes both industrialized and developing nations. For the first time all … [Read more...]

Is the USA “blocking” the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol?

Well, that depends on your definition of “blocking”. Since the USA did not join the Kyoto Protocol (KP), it is not (officially) included in the negotiations specifically for the KP. Thus, it is completely possible for the KP to enter a second commitment period even though America may hate the very idea. This means that technically it is wrong to say the USA is “blocking” the KP because it does not have that authority. Despite this technicality, America is still very much hindering progress. This is occuring because those countries that are under the … [Read more...]

The problem COP17 isn’t talking about

Many issues are covered during each COP, including a staggering 70 plus agenda items this time around. Some issues get much more treatment than others, but there is one that is getting no time at all. What could this mysterious topic be, you ask? Ocean Acidification (OA), the “other half of the carbon problem”. I just attended a side event by almost the same name here in the Durban expo center. Its panel provided a refreshing splash of science in what has otherwise been a conference nearly devoid of such a perspective. Unfortunately, the news, though … [Read more...]

Update from COP17: The Kyoto roadblock explained

In my previous post about long-term action, I addressed some disagreement last week involving the USA, EU, and China. Since that time, I have observed several more sessions of the AWG-LCA which offer further insight into the areas of contention in the negotiations for a continuation of a legally binding instrument (LBI) for national GHG reduction commitments. Consideration of several such key points follows. One of the most important phrases on the table is “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” (CDR-RC - yes, we love … [Read more...]

COP17: Why Christiana Figueres is wrong

Last Thursday afternoon’s briefing with UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres was a much awaited event among the non-government organizations who gathered in Durban, South Africa for the 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP17/CMP7 as it called alternatively. Since we are not allowed to be in the negotiation table and we mostly rely on our colleagues wearing pink badges (parties), the briefing was a welcome to everyone who wants to get their voices heard, get updates, and communicate directly with the UNFCCC Secretariat. It was … [Read more...]

COP17: “There’s No Planet B”

The number of people suffering from hunger is set to reach over 1 billion by the end of 2011 and climate change could put an extra 50 million people at risk within a decade. Small scale farmers already produce half the world’s food and most of them are women. With access to training, technology, financial services and markets—the number of people going hungry could be cut by 15%. The actions taken at the UN climate conference in Durban, South Africa could define the future of rural people across the African continent. If changes are not made, millions … [Read more...]

COP17 report-back: USA, China, EU not on the same page for long-term action

Earlier today I sat in on the open meeting of the Ad hoc Working Group for Long Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA), a body tasked with looking ahead and considering the future trajectory of activities under the UNFCCC process. There I had the opportunity to witness a brief exchange between several major players, including the USA, EU, and China. I will recount this episode and provide some analysis. Shortly after I entered the room, the US representative took the floor to state that America’s expectations for the COP are centered on settling … [Read more...]