A round of international talks on climate change ended with a fizzle over the weekend. The Philippines delegate Naderev Sano made an impassioned plea in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan to end “the climate madness.” And delegates from developing nations walked out over the need for more aid to cope with flooded homes, parched crops, and other damage done by global climate change. Yet despite the dramatic moments, the international talks didn’t rise to the increasing challenges of climate change.
But let’s be clear: the effort to confront climate change continues without pause. Around the world and at every level—from village cooperatives to Fortune 500 companies to national governments—people are already committing to reduce carbon pollution and expand sustainable economic growth. We still need world leaders to secure international commitments, but we aren’t waiting. Instead, we are pointing the way forward, because we owe it to our children and our grandchildren to act now.
NRDC has helped design low-carbon policies emerging from the US to India to China, and we don’t stop there. We monitor commitments made around the world to confirm they become reality. This is the kind of work we have done ever since we helped draft the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act four decades ago. We have known that while it’s important to pass a good environmental law, it’s even more important to put it into practice.
Some officials in climate circles are steeped in the culture of treaties and pledges. NRDC operates in a culture of action. Implementation is in our DNA, and we bring that focus to the climate fight.
Women installing solar panels in Mauritania. They earn income for maintaining solar-powered lighting they set up in village homes.
Yet because the scale of the crisis is so enormous, we have to ensure that local and international efforts add up to the carbon reductions we need. We have to organize climate action in a bold new architecture.
NRDC recently hosted a conference at Yale University to contribute to a 21st century architecture for global engagement that can help us achieve all levels of climate action. If we can fit all efforts into this design—from Microsoft achieving carbon neutrality to the Obama Administration cutting carbon emissions from new cars in half by 2025—then we can do a better job of supporting those efforts. We can strengthen cooperation, learn from new partners, and identify holes that need to be filled. Most important, we can measure the results and track our progress toward climate stability.
The conference was an inspiration. It was full of dedicated people making a concrete difference in the world. Jeffrey Sachs spoke about the need to put humans at the center of the climate response. Some officials are concerned that tackling climate change will distract from relieving poverty, but Sachs reminded us the two must be integrated. After all, bringing solar power to off-the-grid villages will create sustainable economic opportunities and reduce carbon pollution at the same time.
I came away from the conference far more inspired than I’ve been reading the reports from Warsaw. I heard from business executives and community leaders and scientists and government officials who are cutting carbon right now. They are showing the world what is possible. Now we need to rally behind them and demand that international leaders follow their example. Together, we can design a new blueprint for global climate action that shelters all people.
Photo credit: Barefoot Photographers of Tilonia