What lies ahead for international action on global warming for the rest of 2012? (Part 2)

When countries meet in Rio+20 they have a choice – they can talk about the actions that should be taken to reduce global warming or they can outline new actions that they’ll personally implement.  We are way past the point of needing more countries talking – we need them to act.  After all, the U.N. Climate Convention was agreed at the first Rio Summit in 1992, so 20 years after leaders met in Rio we need more than just mere words from world leaders.

This is a four-part post.  Part 1 focuses on the actions at that are happening at home in key countries and a couple of key issues to watch in these countries.  Part 2—this post—considers the actions at Rio+20 that are essential for moving forward on global warming action.  Part 3 discusses key actions to “close the mitigation gap” that are at critical turning points in 2012.  Part 4 outlines some key debates this year that are important to “lay the groundwork for future action”.


With just under one month before world leaders, companies, and other policymakers meet in Rio there are some specific actions that they can implement at Rio that will help reduce their global warming pollution and show that they are truly serious. 

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Speeding up the deployment of renewable energy.  Clean energy continues to surge and rose to $263 billion in new investments last year.  While significant progress has occurred since the last Earth Summit in 2002, wind, solar, geothermal, tidal and wave electricity still account for a small share of the overall electricity mix throughout the world and in key countries.  In the next couple of weeks, NRDC will be releasing a score sheet on each of the G20 countries which shows their progress since 2002 and how much further they have to go to make these renewable sources a significant share of their electricity mix by 2020.  Let’s just say that most of the G20 countries have a ways to go.

Stop subsidizing climate destruction – phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. In 2009, G20 leaders pledged to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and additional Asia-Pacific countries later pledged similar commitments.  As a result, more than 53 countries now have publicly committed to phase-out subsidies for fossil fuels.  Unfortunately very little concrete action has followed from these commitments. With governments supporting over $775 billion in subsidies for fossil fuels, according to a new analysis, Rio+20 is clearly the time for getting out of the business of subsidizing activities that are destroying the planet.  After all, these subsidies are almost 12 times greater than the amount of subsidies that are going for clean energy.*

Just yesterday over 75 organizations from around the world called upon world leaders to act on fossil fuel subsidies at Rio by committing to phase-out these subsidies by 2015. As the letter states:

“As environmental, faith, development, trade, indigenous peoples, youth, and health organizations representing millions of citizens worldwide, we call on world leaders to seize these opportunities and fulfill their promises to eliminate these wasteful and dangerous subsidies as soon as possible, and instead put that money to work in creating a more sustainable future.”

And joining in the chorus, more than 600,000 citizens from around the world have signed a petition demanding that their leader phase-out fossil fuel subsidies.  Join your voice with these citizens in demanding action at Rio on fossil fuel subsidies.

Mobilizing World Bank Group investments in off-grid renewable energy.  Over 1.4 billion people live without electricity and over 85% of these citizens live in rural areas throughout the world.  As a result, expanding energy access to many of these people will require investments in off-grid electricity as large scale-electricity and extending the power grid isn’t always the best way to meet their electricity needs.  So that is why twenty clean energy entrepreneurs and nearly thirty civil society organizations sent a letter to the World Bank Group urging them to commit to $500 million for off-grid renewable energy investments at the Rio+20 Earth Summit. 

Other climate & energy actions are primed for movement at Rio+20.  In addition, there are a number of other activities that are poised for leadership at the Rio+20 Earth Summit by countries, companies, and citizens taking new action to:

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With one month to go and heads of government and CEOs starting to make their final plans for Rio+20, it is critical that world leaders step up to plate.  After all, do they really want to be known as the leader that skipped a high-level meeting that charted a more sustainable future for the planet? Or do they want to be known as the leader that showed up empty-handed – with no new actions that they would implement?

That was the message that we recently sent to President Obama when 20 leading environmental groups in the U.S. – representing more than 5 million Americans – called on the President to lead at Rio with his presence and new actions.  And it is the message that is being sent to other world leaders.

This is a critical moment to follow through on commitments with new actions and clear steps to live-up to previous commitments.  We don’t need another vague statement – we need action!


Photo of solar panels in India: courtesy of NRDC. Photo of deforestation: courtesy of Wakx, under Creative Commons License.

* The International Energy Agency estimated that in 2010, subsidies for wind, solar and biofuels totaled $66 billion.