My Resolution to Help “Green the Planet” this Year: Get an International Climate Agreement

I don't usually do "New Year's Resolutions".  But this is such an important year for the planet that I'll break from my usual pattern and make a New Year's Resolution -- not a normal one like exercising more or eating healthier but a Green ResolutionAs my colleague Scott Dodd discusses, NRDC's bloggers will be posting their own green resolutions (here).

Of course I'll be trying to live a "green life" as much as possible by using less energy, driving less, eating lower in the food chain, eating organic foods, etc.  I attempt to do all those already, but I'll try to be better at them this year.   

But that isn't enough, I'm afraid, as we need truly bigger things this year if we are going to get a handle on solving global warming.  Individual actions are crucial -- and we definitely need lots more of them -- but we also need bold, transformational changes.  After all, last year's dominant theme was "change" -- and not your garden variety incremental change but 180 degree change.  (Of course anything on climate change measured against the "do-nothing" strategy of Bush will look like big change, so we have to measure it against the environmental need not just against the "Bush threshold").

So, my green resolution for 2009 (and hopefully one that is bold enough) is that we'll get an international agreement that puts the world on a solid path in 2020 to hold global temperatures to way below a 2°F rise from today's levels (roughly equivalent to a 2°C rise above pre-industrial levels that is used by folks in the EU and elsewhere).  In my view, this will require five key things:

  1. Strong leadership from developed countries with firm and aggressive emissions reductions targets in the near-term (e.g., 2020 and 2030) and strong signals that they will significantly reduce emissions in the medium-term (e.g., 2050)
  2. Willingness of developing countries to undertake significant emissions reductions on their own that tangibly reduce the growth of their emissions in the near-term (e.g., to 2020) and lay the foundation for even deeper cuts in the medium-term.
  3. Turning the corner on efforts to combat global deforestation by finally proving that developing countries can get a reasonable handle on their forest governance (e.g., illegal logging) and by creating incentives to properly assist developing countries in preserving their pristine forests.
  4. Properly designed and performance-based incentives from developed countries to encourage even greater developing country emissions reductions. These need to be designed to help spur huge "leapfrogging" of the typical development cycle, create opportunities for expansion of green technology transfer to developing countries, and help spur developing countries to shift their economies towards a "green growth strategy".
  5. Support for adaptation to the impacts of climate change in the least vulnerable countries that address the impacts that are already occurring (or expected to occur in the near future) and improve the resilience of these communities over time.

You might be saying to yourself right way, too bold, can't be done this year, this guy spent too much time on vacation away from the real world.  It is bold (and I won't kid you that it will happen with a snap of our fingers), but it is what we need.  Our future, my kids' future, and the future of other kids around the world are hinging on our success in solving global warming. 

And, here is why I think we can make it possible this year.

  • We finally have a leader in the White House that gets global warming and understands that solving it is a huge part of our economic solutions (as I discussed here and as my colleague Andy Stevenson discussed here and here).
  • There are lots of good reasons for the US to pass legislation this year to cap its emissions (as my colleague Andy Stevenson discussed here) which will have a huge ripple effect on every aspect of the international negotiations.
  • Developing countries are showing a much stronger willingness to reduce their emissions...we are finally past the developed vs. developing country "finger pointing" about who needs to act (the answer is both, but in differing manners in the near-term). This increased willingness is being witnessed in recent signals from Brazil, China, Mexico, South Africa, and South Korea (the major "emerging economies").
  • There is a framework under serious discussion for how major emerging economies could limit emissions from some of their major sources of emissions (i.e., electricity and major industry sectors) and how incentives could be best delivered -- the sectoral approach (as I discussed here).
  • We have a powerful new tool in the US to help developing countries begin to address their forest governance by supporting their efforts to combat illegal logging (as I discussed here).
  • There is a strong agreement that the developed countries will provide incentives to help developing countries reduce their deforestation emissions (as I discussed here) despite some differences of opinion on the details.

It won't be easy and it won't just fall into our laps.  We'll need all the forces working together.  So, sticking with the other theme of the year...YES WE CAN!...And yes we must!