Over twenty years ago representatives from 154 countries gathered in Rio for a United Nations conference often referred to as Earth Summit. It was the first of many conferences in which participants loosely agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but never formed any concrete and binding agreements that would actually accomplish a reduction in emissions.
Many of the arguments going back and forth focus on whether or not the countries that first industrialized about 200 years ago carry greater responsibility for the current state of the climate and should therefore help developing countries reduce their emissions through technology sharing and financial support. Moreover, China argues that as its emissions are the result of industrial production of goods mainly marketed in other countries, those countries share responsibility for greenhouse gases emitted in China. They do have a point – corporations have outsourced not only jobs but also pollution.
(Photograph: Stringer Shanghai/Reuters, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/jun/10/asia-pollution-emissions)
While over the last twenty years countries have been quibbling about how and who and how much to decrease emissions, emissions have continued to increase. As a result the world is now on track for a 2 degree Celsius (3.6 F) rise in average global temperature.
Two degree Celsius might not sound like much but people all over the world are already experiencing the consequences of our collective inertia. Hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy, and typhoons like Haiyan destroy lives and homes. Droughts and extreme heat waves cause crop failures, famines, and civil wars. The sad irony of climate change is that the places most impacted are home to the people least responsible for the rise of atmospheric CO2.
Next week another UN Climate summit will be taking place in New York City. People from all over the world are coming together on September 21 in New York for the People’s Climate March to demand fast and meaningful action to stop and mitigate climate change. Here in Seattle the rally starts at 1 pm at Westlake Park.