For most anyone reading the newspapers, this past week affirmed that climate change has become the defining issue of this era. Each day brought new coverage of meetings between the world's political, business and even celebrity leaders -- who, with but a few exceptions, affirmed that we must find common cause on this urgent problem, and implement solutions now.
At a high level United Nations climate meeting, Secretary General Ban articulated the consensus of world leaders, saying that "We must forge a new global agreement to address this pressing problem." It was the largest such meeting ever held, with more than 70 heads of state. Ban spoke of observing clear signs that the world has awakened to the scale of the problem, and at long last decided to do something about it. "I sensed something remarkable happening, something transformative," said Ban, " a sea-change whereby leaders showed themselves willing to put aside blame for the past and to pose to themselves more forward-looking questions."
The lesson from the UN is that "curbing climate change may not be as hard as it looks." With political will comes results.
Not far from the UN, I attended the Clinton Global Initiative, a gathering of more than 1,000 leading figures in business, political and popular culture. Hundreds of CEOs and government officials -- along with pop icons like Brad Pitt -- joined with Bill Clinton to build a worldwide global warming action plan. Business leaders and philanthropists pledged hundreds of million dollars to support specific programs, and committed to focusing on the concrete ways political, corporate and civic leaders can work together to harness existing momentum and accelerate progress worldwide.
So far, so good. But on the very same week that leaders were facing global warming squarely at the UN and the CGI, President Bush hosted his own "climate change meeting" of the top 16 world economies. He offered no new, substantive policy and implicitly rejected binding emissions controls. This meeting infuriated many by professing world leadership on curbing global warming while actually stonewalling on taking fast and decisive action.
The Bush administration clings to an emissions intensity goal that lets US greenhouse gas pollution rise through 2012, and continues to oppose bills before Congress to establish a mandatory economy-wide cap-and-trade system. In convening this Meeting of Major Economies, the Bush administration hoped to align other governments with its vision of an international but voluntary framework on cutting greenhouse gas pollution. But developed nations other than the US affirmed that they were prepared to make internationally binding commitments to take much stronger action: Europe reiterated its commitment to reduce emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020; Canada committed to reducing emissions 20 percent below current levels in that timeframe; Australia plans to establish a domestic cap-and-trade system by 2011.
The messages of last week's marathon of meetings were clear to almost all who engaged: global warming is an urgent problem, the time to act is now, and the solutions must match the size and scope of the problem. In the US, this means that laws mandating sharp greenhouse gas reductions must be enacted and implemented soon.
On the international scene, the Kyoto Protocol is due to expire in 2012, and a successor international treaty must be developed. Upcoming UN climate meetings in Bali present a perfect opportunity to get to work.
Mindy S. Lubber is president of Ceres and director of the Investor Network on Climate Risk, a group of 60 institutional investors with $4 trillion in assets focused on the business impacts of climate change.
Image: "The Jakobshavn Glacier in western Greenland drains the central ice sheet, and it is retreating inland faster than any other. This image shows the glacier in 2001. The glacier flows from upper right to lower left. The fjord beyond the glacier terminus is packed with seasonal ice and icebergs. Terminus locations before 2001 were determined by surveys; more recent contours were derived from Landsat data. Without measurements of ice thickness, however, the picture of ice loss is incomplete." Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Cindy Starr, based on data from Ole Bennike and Anker Weidick (Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland) and Landsat data.
This is a great example of why we need to hear a climate change action plan from each of the candidates seeking their parties nomination in the 2008 presidential election. Each candidate has been invited to communicate their priorities at the upcoming Global Warming & Energy Solutions conference sponsored by Clean Air - Cool Planet.
Go to www.carboncoalition.org/blog to read what the candidates are saying in New Hampshire about global warming.
I'm glad that pop icons are pledging money toward specific problems, but what about reforming their own lives and habits while they're at it? Making changes (smaller houses, less cars, less consumptive behaviors) that press and the "general public" can see can actually have quite a bit of influence in getting people to question their own lifestyles. At least this might influence the part of the public that follows and looks up to the pop icons of our society.