The Road to Copenhagen

Transforming the World’s Energy Economy with 21st Century Solutions

12-01-2009 // Larry J. Schweiger, President & Chief Executive Officer

Carbon dioxide pollution knows no political boundaries. Decarbonizing every economy around the world must be our common goal.

In a few days, the National Wildlife Federation will send a team to the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen to support world leaders striving to create an enforceable global agreement to cut carbon dioxide emissions. We will be demanding that assembled leaders produce a road map—with every nation participating this time—to curb this massive threat before it’s too late to avoid catastrophic climate changes that will spell unprecedented losses of wildlife in every ecosystem throughout the world. We will demand firm reductions and timetables that match the best available science, and we will press for establishment of specific, enforceable targets proportional to each country’s contributions. Here are some of the key elements to a global deal:

  • Bold and verifiable goals: The 20 largest emitters, known as the G-20, produce 80 percent of the carbon dioxide pollution. They include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States. These nations must lead the way to cut their emissions on an aggressive timetable. Discussions leading up to Copenhagen have been marked by wrangling about who should do what and which countries should make the biggest emissions cuts. The United States and China together now represent more than 40 percent of annual emissions so we both must do our fair share to cut future pollution. Copenhagen will fail unless scientifically sound 2020 emissions targets are established for each of these countries and a firm date for industrialized nations to begin cutting overall emissions is instituted. The actual atmospheric declines should start no later than 2015 to minimize runaway global warming.

  • Skipping 20th century mistakes: Many developing nations are rightfully looking for ways to build their own economies. It is critically important we help them create clean-energy economies while avoiding fossil fuels that increase global emissions. In other words, we want to help developing nations to go from the 19th century right into the 21st century, bypassing our 20th century mistakes. Think of it this way: Many of the world’s poorest people have never made a phone call; if and when they do, it will be on a cell phone. When they get their first lights, it will be with solar- or wind-powered electricity.

  • Protecting forests: Deforestation and continual degradation of forests represent about 20 percent of the total human-caused atmospheric carbon dioxide. We must forge a deal that helps developing countries protect remaining uncut forests, which are vital stores of carbon, by providing financial incentives to reduce future deforestation. Properly executed, this will help mitigate climate change, provide protection for rain-forest biodiversity and help the poor develop in sustainable ways. All of this must be sensitive to social, institutional and political drivers that trigger destructive forest losses.

  • Storing carbon in second-growth forests and agricultural soils: Because it will take time to transition large coal-fired power plants and industrial facilities, we must invest in carbon offsets that fund farmers who increase their carbon storage in soils and pay landowners for delaying timber harvests by 30 to 40 years to get additional carbon storage from older trees.
  • The December meeting will bring together world leaders to forge an agreement to succeed the Kyoto climate change treaty that expires in 2012. Many of us were hoping the election of Barack Obama signaled that the United States would now play a strong leadership role in Copenhagen by tackling climate change with a new law that would set a firm foundation for U.S. action. It is yet to be determined if President Obama will go to Copenhagen as a leader determined to forge an agreement that protects the future of all children.

    The U.S. House of Representatives, under the able leadership of Speaker Pelosi, passed a foundational bill that will enable the president to lead. As of this writing, it is unclear if the Senate will match the House action by passing a bill in time to help shape the president’s role in the treaty decisions. I remain hopeful that Senator Kerry and Senator Boxer can reach out to the Republican senators and those swing Democrats from high-carbon states to forge a deal.

    The Copenhagen summit is a critical milestone. You should urge the president to lead the charge for a global deal and urge your senators to pass climate legislation to create millions of clean-energy jobs, make our world more secure and to give wildlife this last chance.

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