By Markos N. Kaminis
Some of the wind had already been drawn from the sails of hope ahead of the start of the historic conference in Copenhagen. Thus, great accomplishments seemed unlikely heading into the critical meeting. Then, just as the gathering crowded, the Europeans laid down the gauntlet for humanity. Europe, already leaders in alternative energy generation, offered to intensify their greenhouse gas emission reduction plans to 30% by 2020, significantly more than the 20% cut they had already expected to reach.
The United States sincerely wants to adopt climate changing emissions targets and pursue alternative energy generation for her own sake and for the sake of the world. The US plans to cut emissions of greenhouse gases 17% by 2020 and 80% or more by 2050. President Obama told the frustrated audience in Copenhagen that the US has, “…chartered our course. We have made our commitments. We will do what we say.” Perhaps nearly equally compelling the US toward a clean energy infrastructure, energy independence carries long-term strategic and fiscal benefit for the great State. So she will pursue it nonetheless, and she has.
This same month, the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an “Endangerment Finding,” declaring that six greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, pose a danger to the environment and public health. The ruling allows the US Federal Government to regulate gas emissions under the authority granted under its Clean Air Act.
Still, America needs China to get on board. China is the home of 1.3 billion people or nearly 20% of the world’s population, and India accounts for another 1.1 billion. China contains 14% of the world’s known coal reserves, and coal provides 70% of its energy production. The country is coming into its own now, developing a middle class and a fast growing economy (world’s second largest) driven by both production for the rest of the globe and by nascent and intensifying domestic demand. Thus, the two quickly developing Asian giants threaten to severely offset the efforts of the developed world should they ignore climate threats.
China has significant concerns tied to the potential disturbance of its energy infrastructure. Its economy is swiftly growing, yet its population is mostly poor. If China pursues swift seachange, the result could be economic catastrophe and civil unrest. Thus, it is requiring financial assistance to help it alter its course.
China must participate for the plan to prove effective. So, the world wants to keep an eye on the sometimes deviant and always secretive communist relic. We need a measuring stick by which to grade the relative efforts and progress of individual nations.
Copenhagen left many unsatisfied, but some good came of the gathering. The US will be part of a fast-start funding program to help poorer undeveloped nations take steps to ensure a stable climate. America is putting aside funds toward this united effort, which will ramp up funding to $10 billion annually by 2012. The EU is committing $3.6 billion in annual short-term funding from 2010 to 2012 for this same purpose. The US has also extended an offer to commit up to $100 billion by 2020 if the world (read China) would only agree to emission mitigation, transparency and fair measuring sticks.
In the end, no formal binding treaty was signed, but the framework for a future agreement was laid on the table. With more time, and likely with the impetus of intensifying climate changes, some sort of arrangement seems in store. The critical question, though, is whether it will come in time to reverse the effects of destructive greenhouse gases before monumental climate change becomes irreversible.