Policy Summary
Last week, the Chile/Madrid UN Climate Change Conference closed with disappointingly familiar lip-service to the value of addressing climate change while doing nothing to challenge the status quo or address historical emission sources. Officially called the 25th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change (COP 25), the meeting in Madrid was meant to discuss progress made towards the goals set in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. The Paris Climate Accord is an agreement signed by over 200 nations to reduce and limit greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is thought to be the point at which Earth will experience the most destructive effects of climate change. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres opened the conference with a speech that declared it as the “point of no return” in the fight against climate change, which makes the outcome that much more discouraging and further highlights the fact that such talk is nothing but hollow words.

Worldwide, greenhouse emissions continue to rise despite the promises of elites and governments across the board. In 2015 at the signing of the Paris Climate Accord, those states officially recognized that global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced and declared that said emissions were to peak in 2020 at the latest and begin to fall through the concerted effort of countries who signed the Agreement. However, in order to reach the set goals of the Paris Climate Accord, emissions will now need to drop by an annual 7.6% for the next ten years. On full display at the COP 25 conference was the impact of the U.S.’s absence from the Paris Climate Accord, along with the interests of other powerful, industrialized states. Both of these facets will be examined in the analysis. Despite Trump’s formal withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and the absence of any Trump administration officials at the COP 25, Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and a 15-member congressional delegation were in attendance. Speaker Pelosi noted that “we’re still in,” meaning the US Paris Agreement withdrawal doesn’t legally take effect til after the next US Presidential election.

A major hope for COP 25 was the construction of rules for an international emission-trading system, which was discussed at the 2018 COP conference in Poland. Such a system would involve a global market for carbon dioxide emissions, where each state and business would receive a supply of carbon credits. Those that emit below a set cap are able to sell their left-over allowance of credits to those that do not, letting governments and businesses trade their carbon dioxide outputs. Proponents argue that trading will encourage greenhouse gas producers to limit their emissions. However, those at the COP 25 were unable to come to an agreement over the rules of such a system.

COP 25 was hamstrung from the start and drastically hindered by wealthy state’s unwillingness to admit to and reduce their impacts upon increasing greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, fossil fuel companies are lobbying and encouraging wealthy countries to force through carbon emission-trading markets. Such markets do not actually reduce emissions, which is what is needed to meet the Paris Climate Accord targets but compensate for increased emissions and create the false image that governments and businesses are addressing climate change. It ignores the fact that the vast majority of historical greenhouse gas emissions have come from the Global North, that the over-consumption of the Global North is the direct cause of climate change, and that those that are the most privileged will have to surrender thought-to-be inherent pleasures and patterns to ensure that the marginalized do not shoulder the burden that they did not create.

Emission-trading does not actually limit emissions, as each new business is afforded a new supply of carbon credits and those industries that over-produce carbon dioxide can easily access more credits rather than limit their production. Market-based solutions cannot hope to address climate change, as it is the market itself and the pursuit of profit and continual economic growth that has created anthropogenic climate change. If governments, corporations, and the people themselves cannot accept that human and ecological well-being should come before growth, then the future of human civilization is doomed to hang in the balance.

The U.S. has displayed disappointing leadership and a complete unwillingness to engage with climate and environmental justice matters. The Trump administration has signaled its intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, and even the Democratic congressional delegation that attended the COP 25 conference objected to provisions that would hold the U.S. and other wealthy states accountable for the destruction that climate change has wrought. The fossil fuel industry is expected to grow, at a minimum, 50% more than what is needed to meet a 2 degree Celsius cap by 2030, and 120% farther than what is required to meet the 1.5-degree Celsius target recommended by the Inter-Governmental Panel for Climate Change in a recent report.. The U.S. will certainly be a principle driver of this expansion, as its domestic fossil fuel industry, the international fossil fuel corporations based within it, the American military-industrial complex, and the consumption habits of its population show no signs of ramping down. It appears that everything, including greenhouse gas emissions, is big in America.

The hollow promises and lip-service of elites and governments must be resisted. It is the privilege of those in the U.S. and the Global North to have the power to affect change to a disproportionate degree. The burden of climate change is being unduly forced upon those that are marginalized within the global order, and the abuse of people of color, women, youth, indigenous peoples, and those communities on the frontline of climate change cannot be tolerated.

Engagement Resources:

  • Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice – a global movement of over 200 environmental justice, climate justice, civil rights, environmentalist, and other civil society groups that are fighting for change in the struggle against climate change
  • ActionAid – fights for women’s rights, poverty alleviation, and climate change issues
  • NYRenews – a coalition of over 200 community groups in New York fighting for progressive climate laws
  • Got Green – an environmental justice organization based in Seattle seeking to grow community power in environmental, racial, economic, and gender issues

Photo by unsplash-logoRoxanne Desgagnés

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