At the beginning of every new year, I (as a Climate Activist) like to reflect back on the most important climate action and inaction stories of the previous year. My focus is on the 2014 events that will have the greatest impact going forward to 2015 – the most important year ever for the climate movement, culminating with the Paris COP21 (Conference of the Parties) in December. Decisions taken at Paris2015 may very well determine the future of humankind on this planet.
Climate Action and Inaction – The Best and the Worst of 2014
According to the Climate Reality Project, 2014 was a huge year for climate action. It was also a huge year for #ClimateHope.
After so much bad news about the climate, 2014 saw an abundance of good news and success stories showing how individuals, companies, cities, states, countries, regions – heck, practically everyone – has been making forward strides in reducing carbon pollution. You can practically feel the (renewable) energy in the air now as world leaders work on a climate agreement for next year. (Source: Climate Reality Project).
1. The Peoples Climate March
Just a few days after the Peoples Climate March in New York, President Obama in his United Nations General Assembly speech remarked that “our citizens keep marching. We cannot pretend we do not hear them. We have to answer the call.”
The march was the the largest climate action in world history. Over 400,000 marchers demonstrated in the streets of New York and another 2808 climate rallies were held around the globe. “This is the most important day yet in the history of the climate movement – around the world and across New York people have said enough is enough – we demand serious action now,’” said Bill McKibben co-founder of 350.org.
The Peoples Climate March gave a faltering Climate Movement the boost and revival it so urgently needed. It sent a powerful and impassioned message to world leaders that the time to act on climate change is now. It was a clear and united global call for action.
“To change everything, we need everyone,” was the slogan organizers used to mobilize people to march. And it worked. The Peoples Climate March “changed everything”. The face of climate activism has shifted from polar bears and Priuses toward marginalized communities. Marchers came from all walks of life – trade unions, business, front-line community groups, politicians – and a broad ethnic and racial base.
It was, in my opinion, the most significant climate action event of 2015.
2. Barack Obama is Becoming the Climate-Change President
In early 2009, a newly-elected Barack Obama was to become the climate President, clearly determined to take on climate change. It started well. He instituted tough fuel-efficiency standards shortly after taking office and then went on to include $90 billion for clean energy in the 2009 stimulus bill (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009). Regrettably, those were the only worthy climate accomplishments during Obama’s first term. “But despite these lousy beginnings, Obama’s accumulating accomplishments on climate change might define his legacy,” says the Washington Post.
In June 2014, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced sweeping new regulations designed to slash carbon emissions from coal plants by up to 30 percent by 2030, from a 2005 baseline. Carbon pollution from power plants is the largest source of US greenhouse gas emissions.
Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune describes the impact of the EPA announcement:
This is the kind of leadership that we’ve needed for a long time. And the impacts on clean energy will be huge. For the first time we are regulating carbon [dioxide] from arguably the largest source of carbon [dioxide] in the U.S….And that change is profound—it’s historic.”
This climate action taken by Barack Obama by Executive Order was quickly followed with the announcement of a climate agreement with China.
3. The US-China Climate Agreement
This historic agreement has been heralded as a ‘game-changer’. The agreement was secretly negotiated over a period of over nine months and the announcement came shortly before the Lima COP20 climate conference of December 1-14.
in November, the U.S. and China announced a bi-lateral agreement to tackle climate change. The U.S. promised to cut emissions by 26-28 percent by 2025 based on a 2005 baseline. China pledged that its emissions would peak around 2030 and that it would generate at least 20 percent of its power from renewable sources by that year.
As we reach the end of 2014, the debate over the actual benefits of the agreement on carbon emissions continues to rage. The deal is non-binding and is more about what China and the US intend to do than achieving concrete significant emissions reductions.
Together, China and the U.S. account for about 45 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. So what the world’s top two emitters intend matters. Paragraph 4 of the Joint U.S.-China Announcement reads as follows:
The United States and China hope that by announcing these targets now, they can inject momentum into the global climate negotiations and inspire other countries to join in coming forward with ambitious actions as soon as possible, preferably by the first quarter of 2015. The two Presidents resolved to work closely together over the next year to address major impediments to reaching a successful global climate agreement in Paris.
The U.S. lead climate negotiator, Todd Stern, calls the deal “a serious commitment requiring the U.S to double its rate of carbon reductions in the next decade…28 percent puts the U.S. on a straight-line path to 80 percent reductions – from 1990 levels – by 2050, a broadly shared goal by the international climate community.” (source: Rolling Stone).
And indeed the recent Lima COP20 Agreement was largely successful because of the actions of the world’s top developed country and the largest developing country. Many would argue that Presidents Obama and Xi Ling have set the political tone for the road to Paris2015.
Climate Inaction – the Worst
In spite of the unprecedented climate actions of two of the top leaders of the world – President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping – there remain many obstacles to a successful climate agreement at Paris2015. Some of the impediments to success are from vested interests such as the fossil fuel industry but also an apathetic public unwilling to make the tough choices. Sadly, there are world leaders of developed countries like Canada and Australia who still embrace a climate position that runs counter to the public attitudes in their own respective country.
1. Canada – An Embarrassment at International Climate Talks
Canada’s ranking as worst performer of all developed countries on climate action is unbecoming for a country once considered exemplary in its environmental stewardship performance. The 2014 Climate Change Performance Index shows Canada in 58th place out of 61 countries – only Kazakhstan, Iran and Saudi Arabia fared worse.
Stephen Harper and his Conservatives have shamefully sold their souls to the Tar Sands. Not only has Canada turned away from climate change action at home but Harper has skipped international climate negotiations and even worse has supported other governments, like Australia, in their efforts to resist taking action on climate change.
2. Australia Now Regressive on Climate Action
In 2014, Australia became the first and only country to repeal it’s carbon tax enacted in 2012 by a more progressive government. In 2013, Tony Abbott campaigned on the abolition of the carbon tax and proceeded to do so shortly after being elected. Abbott ignored research by the Centre for Climate Economics & Policy which showed that the policy had successfully cut the country’s emissions by 0.8 percent during its first year — the biggest one-year drop in 24 years of record-keeping.
The Axis of Carbon twins – Stephen Harper and Tony Abbott – have shown signs lately of giving in to international pressure. Both have reluctantly contributed to the special UN Climate Change Fund. Harper’s intent is clearly political; he’s facing an election in October of 2015. Abbott’s decision is seen as hypocritical and a face-saver by most environmentalists and climate activists.
One is left to wonder how both Harper and Abbott will navigate the difficult waters leading up to Paris2015. World leaders have committed themselves to striking an agreement for the reduction of emissions starting in 2020. The world will be watching.
Rolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of BoomerWarrior.Org. He’s a Climate Reality leader, a blogger and an Climate Activist. Rolly has been published in several online publications – Climate Change Guide, World Daily, Examiner, The Canadian, 350Ottawa, ClimateMama, MyEarth360, GreenDivas, The Elephant, Countercurrents, Georgian Bay News.