By Betsy A. Wier, MA, PhD, CEI Advisory Board Member
I had the opportunity to attend the UNFCCC COP 25 event in Madrid, Spain in December 2019 as part of a delegation from Colorado State University. It was in some ways an overwhelming experience with thousands of people from all over the world attending while the press ran from one end of the expo center to the other to document speeches including the climate superstar, Greta Thunberg. I managed to navigate the event with a cup of café con leche in hand and the UN app on my phone to find the meetings and locations. I logged an average of 18,000 steps a day just getting where I needed to go! Joking aside, I was sincerely impressed and a bit emotional about how much all of these people, organizations, universities, governments, scientists and politicians care about the planet. There was a sense of urgency to communicate the science, advance policy decisions, and implement concrete actions.
What is the UNFCCC COP 25? The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), established in 1994, holds an annual Conference of Parties (COP) to work on national and global climate action plans. The “parties” refer to participating countries. There are 197 parties to the convention, of which 187 have ratified the convention. The national plans, called Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs, include targets to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs), protect ecosystems, biodiversity and share scientific data. The Paris Agreement outlines what targets and contributions countries need to make as part of their national plans. The scientific data that provides evidence for setting targets and the content of the Paris Agreement is derived from a large cohort of hundreds of scientists across the globe called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
An easy way to understand the global emissions reduction targets needed is: By 2030 we need to cut emissions in half and then half again by 2050. These targets will prevent the global mean temperature from increasing beyond what we can currently model in terms of future scenarios. These same targets can be adopted at national, state and local levels to contribute to the global reduction goals. Locally, you may find similar goals in a city climate action plan and/or a state level plan.
The COP 25 event was a milestone event because the national plans go into effect in 2020. In other words, the planning phase has been done, now the countries must implement their plans. What is the United States doing to contribute? The U.S. drafted a national contributions plan at the end of the Obama Administration. The Trump administration chose to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement entirely. The U.S. will be officially withdrawn from the Paris Agreement in November 2020 unless a newly elected administration reengages. The participation of the U.S. in the Paris Agreement is critical because the rest of the world cannot achieve the emissions reductions necessary unless the United States and other large industrial nations contribute their fair share of reductions relative to the amount of GHGs emitted. It is important to note that a U.S. Congressional Delegation traveled to Madrid and attended the UNFCCC event despite the lack of official backing from the Trump Administration. That was a bold move and showed the world that the U.S. does want to participate.
What can you do? The Madrid metro signs had good advice, “DON’T CALL IT CHANGE, CALL IT CLIMATE EMERGENCY.” I believe the most important action right now, in this election year, is to be as politically active as possible. The global mean temperature has already increased by 1 degree Celsius – doesn’t sound like much – but that is all it took for storms to surge, fires to rage and the jet stream to buckle causing polar vortex events that we have never seen before. According to the 2019 Lancet Countdown report, a child born today will, “experience a world that is more than four degrees warmer than the pre-industrial average”.
The urgency to act is now and we can do it. We have enough technology, engineering and creativity to change the tide.
· Look up your city’s climate action plan and attend public meetings. City action is critically important as the building blocks for scaling up to state and federal programs and to advocate for those state and federal programs to exist. Cities may lead the way!
· Write to or call your mayor, governor, senators and representatives and tell them how important a bold climate agenda is to you and for future generations.
· Vote for candidates at all levels that have a clear climate action plan with tangible targets.
· Divest from fossil fuels in your own investments and put pressure on companies, banks and politicians to do the same.
· Familiarize yourself with the new CLEAN Future Act, a draft bill in the House to create a national clean energy standard.
· Support young people to advocate for the planet. Youth activists were powerful at the UN event. They protested daily, constantly infusing the event with a sense of urgency.
Keep up your energy for the good fight! Remember to spend time outside, breathe the air, hug a tree, play with your children in the woods. Love the earth and have the courage to fight for her in whatever way you are able. Rest assured there are millions of people just like you around the world that care and want to protect the earth for future generations.