2015: The year of climate action

York Dispatch logo trans

OP-ED, JAN. 5, 2015

2015: The year of climate action

By Jon Clark
Citizens’ Climate Lobby

For two weeks in December, delegates at the climate talks held in Lima, Peru, hammered out draft text which will be the foundation for a global climate change treaty to be negotiated in Paris next December. Just as the climate talks began, the World Meteorological Organization announced, “The year 2014 is on track to be one of the hottest, if not the hottest, on record, according to preliminary estimates by the World Meteorological Organization,” reinforcing the sense of urgency for delegates to come up with an agreement to reduce greenhouse gases warming the globe.

global warming 2In a report out months ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that unless we drastically reduce emissions now, “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

The impacts they warn of are sea level rise, warming oceans that are becoming more acidic, rising surface temperatures, longer and more frequent heat waves, and “more frequent and intense extreme precipitation events in many regions.”

They also point out the damage we’ve done and the risk we take if we continue down our current path, saying, “Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped. The risks of abrupt or irreversible changes increase as the magnitude of the warming increases.”

Some encouraging options made it into the draft text to be discussed at the Paris meeting in December. One is for “full decarbonization by 2050 and/or negative emissions by 2100.” If this language were to become reality, it essentially means the end of the fossil fuels industry as we know it. This echoes recent calls from the president of the World Bank, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, for the world to eliminate carbon emissions. He said, “All countries should commit to put a price on carbon. … It’s a necessary if not sufficient step to zero net emissions.”

A group of Catholic bishops from all over the world said “to put an end to the fossil-fuel era, phasing out fossil fuel emissions and phasing in 100 percent renewables with sustainable energy access for all.” In November, the Vatican announced that the pope is working on a rare papal encyclical that he will issue to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to rally them for action on climate change. Bishop Sorondo, an Argentinian who is close to the pope, said the encyclical would be produced in time to influence “next year’s crucial decisions,” especially the Paris talks in December.

There are many encouraging signs lately that a global agreement can be reached, including the announcement recently of a historic climate agreement between the two biggest emitters of carbon pollution, the U.S. and China. For a global agreement to be effective, this means every country must reduce greenhouse gas emissions at home. This is already taking place in the U.S., with measures such as more stringent fuel economy standards for automobiles and new EPA regulations for coal-fired power plants. The new EPA regulations are meeting with resistance from many in Congress who claim distaste for big government and EPA regulations.

This is where George Shultz, a conservative economist and former secretary of State under President Reagan, stepped in with his alternate plan for EPA regulation of carbon emissions. The George Shultz Plan, also called carbon fee and dividend, involves putting a steadily rising fee on carbon emissions and returning all of the revenue back to the people as direct payments. While many call this a carbon tax, Shultz disagrees saying, “It’s not a tax if the government doesn’t keep the money.” This is the point of carbon fee and dividend. The fee doesn’t go toward government programs; a price on carbon sends a signal to the free market to move toward carbon free forms of energy and energy efficiency.

While some want to continue business as usual given the current collapse of oil prices, the executive director of International Energy Agency, Maria van der Hoeven, argues in a HuffPost op-ed that this is the time for governments to put a price on carbon, saying “the worst course of action would be complacency in the face of low oil prices” and “policy makers in major energy consuming countries should take advantage of the oil market’s collapse to introduce carbon pricing, taxes or low-carbon mandates.”

Even aside the climate talks, the tide is turning on fossil fuels. More universities, faith groups and local governments are divesting from fossil fuel companies than ever before. Investors are also pressing companies like Exxon-Mobil, Shell and BP to explain how their business plans will work with a binding treaty to reduce emissions and limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, the limit agreed to by nations in previous climate talks. The economics of wind and solar energy are starting to win on price versus conventional fuels in the U.S., and activists are stepping up campaigns to limit new fossil fuel infrastructure. New York State just decided to ban fracking for natural gas and the controversial Keystone XL pipeline remains unbuilt. There is little doubt 2014 will be the hottest year on record, and hopefully 2015 will be the hottest year to date for serious global action on climate change.

— Jon Clark is Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for Citizens’ Climate Lobby and lives in Dover.

This op-ed originally appeared in the York (PA) Dispatch.

Steve Valk
Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.