By Walter Simpson
Last month, just after 200 mph Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, the United Nations held its most recent climate change conference. The conference’s timing also coincided with the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy.
Convened in “coal capital” Warsaw, Poland, the conference highlighted growing dangers of climate change, proceeded chaotically amidst protests, and ended after a marathon session posting a few modest gains and much overall disappointment.
The U.N. Environmental Program released an “Emissions Gap” report setting the stage for the Warsaw conference. According to the report, annual worldwide emissions should be no more than 44 gigatons by 2020 and half that amount by 2050 to be on a least-cost trajectory to avoid catastrophic warming. However, current worldwide emissions are already over 50 gigatons and on track to be 59 gigatons by 2020.
Fortunately, U.S. annual carbon dioxide emissions fell 8 percent between 2007 and 2011. However, much of the decrease is attributable to the economic recession and increased reliance on hydrofracked natural gas, which some analysts say has a much greater carbon footprint than is counted.
The conference ended with progress slowing deforestation (which also contributes to warming), early steps toward a compensatory mechanism for poor countries hardest hit by climate change, and vague promises to curb emissions by coal, oil and gas soon. The ball was punted down field to next year’s session in Lima, Peru – culminating, hopefully, in a 2015 Paris treaty that would actually and significantly reduce the invisible pollution that is making our planet hotter and less suitable for life.
We know what to do – if only we had the political will to finally get serious about energy conservation, efficiency and renewable resources like wind and solar. Plus, federally, we need:
• A strong EPA rule on existing coal plants to hasten their closure.
• A decision by President Obama rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring carbon-intensive tar sands oil from Alberta into the United States.
In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo should:
• Endorse the Sierra Club proposal to double on-shore wind in 2014 and invest in off-shore wind.
• Make the moratorium of natural gas hydrofracking permanent.
• Block all attempts to repower older generating facilities like the one in Dunkirk with natural gas.
We don’t need long-term commitments to burn more fossil fuels. Investments in renewable energy will reduce greenhouse gas emissions while producing economic development, new manufacturing possibilities and jobs with a future.
Walter Simpson, an environmentalist, was energy officer the University at Buffalo from 1982 to 2008.