Climate Change: Failing to Act?

Posted by NYPIRG on November 20, 2017 at 11:13 am
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There can be no doubt that the planet is warming; 2016 was the fifth time in the 21st century a new record high annual temperature has been set (along with 2005, 2010, 2014, and 2015) and also marks the 40th consecutive year (since 1977) that the annual temperature has been above the 20th century average.  To date, all 16 years of the 21st century rank among the seventeen warmest on record (1998 is currently the eighth warmest).  The five warmest years have all occurred since 2010.

Of course, you wouldn’t know that from the environmentally catastrophic policies of the Trump Administration and its allies in Congress.  The Trump Administration has been busy rolling back the already inadequate programs of the former Obama Administration and advancing measures to stimulate the use of coal in energy production – arguably the worst fossil fuel in terms of heating the planet.

Despite the stunningly dangerous policies of the Trump Administration, the world has long known of the dangers posed by the burning of oil, gas and coal.

Twenty-five years ago, more than 1700 independent scientists, including the majority of living Nobel laureates in the sciences, issued the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.” The Warning urged that the world must take measures to curtail environmental destruction and cautioned that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.”

This month on the twenty-fifth anniversary of that call, scientists looked back to evaluate the world’s responses.  What they found, though not surprising, was disturbing: since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, the world has failed to make sufficient progress in solving the environmental challenges and, in fact, most of them are getting far worse.

Their review specifically identified the rapidly increasing threat of catastrophic climate change resulting from the rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and agricultural production.

That warning was released just as the 23rd conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23) was meeting in Bonn, Germany.  The Convention was meeting to take steps to implement the 2015 Paris agreement and to set the stage for next year’s draft rules to fully implement the Paris agreement.

Under the Paris agreement, nearly 200 nations submitted individual pledges to curb their greenhouse-gas emissions.  Under the agreement, nations vowed to limit the rise in global temperatures since the industrial revolution to “well below” 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

At this year’s meeting, the goal was to develop rules to verify whether the nations are actually reducing emissions consistent with the goals of the agreement.  Reportedly, the negotiators made progress toward that goal and the rules are supposed to be in place in time for next year’s climate conference in Katowice, Poland.

Those measurements are critical.  Goals that reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are supposed to hit goals for the year 2030, for example, need to have established, measureable annual mileposts in order to know whether environmental policies will be met and nations are meeting their pledge goals.

Given the Trump Administration’s callous disregard for the suffering that is, and will be, from climate changes, states have argued that they will follow the Paris accord.  New York to its credit is one of those states.

And the Cuomo Administration has set aggressive goals to meet the Paris Agreement:

  • A reduction in New York’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050;
  • Half of those reductions will come by the year 2030; and
  • 50% of the state’s electricity will come from renewable energy sources.

But like the Paris accord itself, a clear public reporting system should be put in place.  In January, Governor Cuomo will offer his State of the State address.  During that speech, the governor will outline both the successes of his Administration and his roadmap for future plans.  He should use that address as a way to hold himself publicly accountable by laying out what has been done to meet the state’s climate change-fighting agenda.  In that way, New York can show the world how to succeed in tackling the single most daunting problem facing humanity.

Of course, success in New York does not solve the problem.  Americans must insist that the Trump Administration and its allies in the Congress embrace aggressive climate change fighting efforts.  Failure to do so will result in catastrophic consequences.  When it comes to a dangerously warming planet, there are no alternative facts.

We must insist that governments at every level take immediate action; it is a moral imperative to current and future generations of human and other life.