It has taken some time for the United States to make a move on CO2 emissions and climate change. Recently Barack Obama has made a significant move towards aiding a comprehensive international action plan. Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Christiana Figueres has “applauded” the move by Obama to implement a climate change plan within America and believes this marks a change in the international landscape. The Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC admits that there is a “worrying shortfall in action” at the present time. However, it is hoped this move by Obama will help to improve political trust and business momentum while driving forward new low and non-carbon technologies. As Christiana Figueres asserts the US plan may well galvanise the international community and comes in the midst of UN-led negotiations on a new universal climate change treaty. As Ban Ki-moon has stated “no country, no community is immune” to the effects of climate change. It is this international dimension that makes the United Nations the only organisation capable of coordinating the agreements needed to deal with this global threat.
The plan presented by Obama talks of cutting carbon emissions (17% cut of 2005 levels by the end of the decade) engaging with the international community (music to the ears of many) and preparing for the impacts of climate change. This last assertion is a vital piece of the puzzle. There will be consequences that cannot be prevented by any future agreements over CO2 cuts. Such consequences are already being felt within the United States itself. The Inuit community of Kivalina (Alaska) recently failed in their final attempt to seek compensation for the impact of global warming from the company they saw as responsible. However, Obama’s move to prepare for the impacts should and must mean that those affected by climate change will not have to personally fight against powerful companies. Instead they must be supported and protected by their governments and the international community. Indeed the court ruling stated that “the solution to Kivalina’s dire circumstances must rest in the hands of the legislative and executive branches of our [United States] government, not the federal common law”. This is not to say that those companies that are adding to the CO2 problem are off the hook. Obama states that it is not right that “Power plants can still dump limitless carbon pollution into the air for free”. Let us hope, for the sake of the Kivalina community and many more communities throughout the world that the United States new plan is more than rhetoric. With such acts of Presidential power as this bypassing of a deadlocked Congress over new rules for greenhouse gas emissions, there are signs that this is no PR stunt.
This move by the US is a vital one. However the US is no longer the number one CO2 emitter in the world. China has taken this unwelcome honour and has recently acknowledged this responsibility by announcing plans to set a CO2 emissions cap by 2016. This is a start and if followed through is a significant moment for the fight against climate change championed by the UN and NGO’s and a great boost to the on-going negotiations. As the US and China make up 37% of global CO2 emissions the statements by both these countries must be cause for hope and encouragement for us all.
Attempts to protect communities such as Kivalina from the now inevitable impacts of climate change are an important part of the necessary response to climate change. However, potential climate change refugees can only be handled on the small scale that Kivalina and other such communities represent. 20 million were displaced in 2010 in Pakistan’s “mega floods”, a frightening number. However, it has been estimated by Refugees International that by 2050 there could be 200 million people displaced by natural disasters and climate change, with the poorest and most vulnerable countries hit hardest. This may be unavoidable, however we must persevere. Therefore, the statements by the US and China, the continued dedication of the United Nations officials and countless committed NGO devotees must give increasing hope that the plight of the Kivalina inhabitants and those in Pakistan shall not befall increasing and possible overwhelming numbers in the future.
Thomas, A. & Rendon, R. (2010). Confronting Climate Displacement: Learning from Pakistan’s Floods. Refugee International