Clearly, no major milestones toward sustainable development came out of the three-day Earth Summit in Rio: no binding commitments to reduce carbon emissions, no treaty, no pledges of monetary support by rich nations to enable developing countries to industrialize through green energy–and only a weak, non-binding agreement to end fossil-fuel subsidies. But there are several positive signs that people aren’t waiting for governments to tame rapacious corporations or act sensibly in time to save the Earth. (The stated goal of Rio+20 was sustainable development, although slowing global warming by reducing carbon emissions was the crucial objective.)
To go with two recent posts about action taken beyond the framework of a global treaty and beyond Rio+20 at the grass-roots level, here is news about a coalition of 16 nations including the US working to combat short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) such as black carbon, soot, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. As reported in Climate Progress, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition has in just four months developed a model of international cooperation to tackle SLCPs using existing solutions. The group claims to be on track to cut cut the rate of global warming in half in the short term. (SLCPs are short-lived but potent, so the effect of shutting them off is dramatic.) This bodes well for the health of people as well as of the Earth, because SLCPs cause respiratory disease and premature death of millions each year, and they cause crop losses as well as Arctic ice to melt. See my post of a few months back that presented two perspectives on whether reducing SLCPs such as black carbon from cookstoves was the way to go or if focusing on this goal would mean neglecting the longer-lasting pollutant, carbon dioxide. Entitled “Don’t let good news on one climate-change front cause neglect of the main chance” this post quoted from a summary that asked, “Should we fight soot instead of CO2?” If you don’t want to go back to the archive, the answer is, “it’s not a choice–we must fight both.”
A June 22 New York Times op-ed by the leaders of two environmental organizations signals a recent shift in attitude: we can plainly not count on global leaders to make binding commitments to reduce carbon emissions. As their title reads, “We Have Met the Solution and It Is Us.” Frances Beinecke, head of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Trip Van Noppen is president of Earthjustice. (I love their slogan: “Because the Earth needs a good lawyer.”) In brief, they argue that action must come from the grass roots, and the good news is, it already has started. They point to announcements and proclamations related to the summit, which 50,000 people attended and blogged, tweeted, and reported about to thousands more, about what countries are doing now without a UN document: “World development banks agreed to invest in a cleaner transportation network. . . . Developing countries agreed to phase out incandescent light bulbs. Australia, Mexico and other coastal countries committed to protecting their irreplaceable seas.”
The writers insist that despite a meaningful agreement and watered-down proclamations issuing from Rio, the Earth Summit was not a failure but rather “a catalyst. It is the starting point for change, not the finish line.” They call for actions on the collective level, of course–to “force our government leaders and our corporations to do what is right for our planet and its resources,” to implement commitments they have made at Rio and elsewhere, and then to” hold them accountable when they don’t”–but also for each one of us to engage.
As they say, “Individually, we must be efficient with the energy and the natural resources we consume and be ever cognizant of what the decisions we make today will mean for our children’s planet tomorrow.” I will follow with a series of posts outlining the many steps each of us can take to make a difference, to be part of the global grass-roots movement for change that will solve this problem. I’ll feature books and websites, and more reports of changes that are making a difference, such as my earlier post on the growth of wind and solar as alternative energy sources.
Most of the news from the global summit is grim indeed, as most of the pledges countries made at the first Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro two decades ago have not been kept. But here’s some good news from the New York Times–an op-ed by a Swedish energy specialist and two economists at the Environmental Defense Fund. They believe that “the seeds of an energy revolution are being sown,” noting that solar and wind energy are developing faster than anyone predicted. They don’t downplay the challenge, given the even faster rise in fossil fuels. They call for a price or cap on carbon emissions and for subsidies to go to renewables such as solar energy.
As reasons to be optimistic by Rio + 30, the writers point to the European Union’s cap on carbon pollution, a cap-and-trade system in 7 cities in China (including Beijing), India’s coal tax, Australia’s tax on carbon, and South Korea’s direct carbon cap. It’s not happening just in other countries; they close their list of innovative entities with California, which “is readying America’s first comprehensive cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, combined with direct subsidies like its successful Solar Initiative.”