Did you know that the top 20 emitting countries in the world create roughly 75% of global emissions? Is your country one of these top polluters, and, if so, what can you be doing to persuade local and regional stakeholders that drastic changes need to occur? The world can’t successfully tackle the climate change challenge without significant action from these countries — and you.
What are the Key Greenhouse Gases Emitted by Human Activities?
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at the global scale, the key greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted by human activities are:
- Global GHG emissions by gas: 65% is from carbon dioxide fossil fuel use and industrial processes. 11% is from carbon dioxide deforestation, decay of biomass, etc. 16% is from methane. 6% is from nitrous oxide and 2% is from fluorinated gases
- Carbon dioxide (CO2): Fossil fuel use is the primary source of CO2. CO2 can also be emitted from direct human-induced impacts on forestry and other land use, such as through deforestation, land clearing for agriculture, and degradation of soils. Likewise, land can also remove CO2 from the atmosphere through reforestation, improvement of soils, and other activities
- Methane (CH4): Agricultural activities, waste management, energy use, and biomass burning all contribute to CH4 emissions
- Nitrous oxide (N2O): Agricultural activities, such as fertilizer use, are the primary source of N2O emissions. Fossil fuel combustion also generates N2O
- Fluorinated gases (F-gases): Industrial processes, refrigeration, and the use of a variety of consumer products contribute to emissions of F-gases, which include hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)
The Paris Agreement: Goals and Ideas for You
In 2015, parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change reached a landmark agreement to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. The Paris Agreement builds upon the Convention and – for the first time – brought nations into a common cause to undertake take ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. As such, it charted a new course in the global climate effort.
As of this writing, 184 of the 197 Parties to the Convention have ratified it. On 5 October 2016, the threshold for the entry into force of the Paris Agreement was achieved. When the Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016, 55 parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55% of the total global GHG emissions deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval, or accession with the Depositary. So-called US President Donald Trump has claimed that the Agreement was a bad deal for the US. The reality is that his disavowal of the treaty is putting the US increasingly at odds with the rest of the world and harming its citizens.
To help your country reduce its GHG emissions, it is helpful to understand the Paris Agreement. Here are the crucial areas the Agreement articulated as necessary to combat climate change.
- Achieve a long-term temperature goal.
- Reach global peaking of GHGs as soon as possible.
- Maintain a nationally determined contribution (NDC) and pursue domestic measures to achieve them.
- Conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of GHGs, including forests.
- Establish a mechanism to contribute to the mitigation of GHG emissions, support sustainable development, and define a framework for non-market approaches to sustainable development.
- Enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience, and reduce vulnerability to climate change.
- Avert, minimize, and address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.
- Support the efforts of developing country parties to build clean, climate-resilient futures.
- Build in climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation, and public access to information.
- Assure transparency, implementation, and compliance.
- Assess collective progress.
- Make decisions, including strengthening the technical examination process, enhancing provision of urgent finance, technology and support, and design measures to strengthen high-level engagement.
Yes, this is an enormous list and a seemingly unachieveable series of areas necessary to combat climate change. But start slowly. Get inspired with concrete examples that show what governments, local councils, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders have been doing to strengthen education and training on climate change, both locally and regionally.
Robbie Orvis: “A Small Set of Actions” Can Help with Climate Change
I reviewed Designing Climate Solutions, a new book out that Lisa P. Jackson, 2009-2013 administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency says “is an outstanding resource” to help decision makers design environmental policies “that really deliver.” To gain some background, I contacted the author group and was delighted to receive a reply from Robbie Orvis, director of energy policy design at Energy Innovation.
Orvis works on Energy Policy Design and Power Sector Transformation programs and also is a contributor to America’s Power Plan. The Plan is a Power Sector Transformation program that curates expert thinking on policy solutions for a clean, reliable, and affordable US power system. Orvis’ work on energy efficiency policy focuses on how to design programs that can unlock greater energy efficiency investments using performance-based regulation.
Orvis and co-authors Hal Harvey and Jeffrey Rissman acknowledge that, while development in low-emission technologies is providing an array of options for emission abatement, policymakers need to help push these technologies into the marketplace with smart policies that quantify each major source of GHG emissions.
Q: How can this book help policy makers who govern typically climate denying constituents to take action to reduce GHG emissions?
A: One way this book is helpful is that it provides information on and a method for estimating how much different policies cost. A surprising finding is that many policies that address climate change actually save consumers money.
For example, fuel efficiency standards for vehicles (like the Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards in the US) save drivers money because the higher upfront cost for a more efficient car is more than offset by all the years of less gasoline consumption. Designing Climate Solutions can, therefore, highlight the policies that can deliver large emissions reductions while saving money, allowing policymakers to orient their policy agenda around savings instead of climate, if that it is preferred.
Q: Prioritizing policies for emission reduction is crucial to achieving 1.5 or 2 degree Celsius global warming. Where do local and regional policymakers begin in times of economic budgetary restrictions? You indicate that policies with large potential abatement and long lead times that deliver economic savings should be prioritized first. Initial policy action must be followed with sector-specific performance standards, carbon pricing, and R&D-supporting policies to help lower abatement costs and provide additional compliance options. Other considerations like political feasibility must also be considered. Where do policymakers with little background in these areas begin?
A: Designing Climate Solutions provides a good first resource for policymakers with little background in climate change, because it breaks down a seemingly immense and complex problem into a series of manageable steps. By tracing where emissions come from, it becomes clear that a relatively small set of actions is required to address these sources. The book then elaborates on the specific policies result in those actions. Designing Climate Solutions, therefore, serves as a good first screening tool for policymakers looking to take action on climate. The book also suggest how policymakers can use existing and new tools to assess which policies reduce emissions at the lowest cost, allowing policymakers to target policies with little upfront cost and large savings.
Q: We live in an age of sound bites, memes, and opinions. How can policymakers capture the ideas in this book succinctly so as to impart their importance and necessity to their constituents? What short phrase or sentence would you suggest embodies the ideas presented within this text?
Ten policies in the top 20 emitting countries can put us on track to stay under 2 degrees of warming.
So What Can each of Us Do to Advocate for National-Level Climate Action?
“We are dangerously behind in the existential race to deal with climate change.”
— John Kerry, former US Secretary of State
Climate science and energy are complex topics, with rapidly developing science and technology and the potential for controversy. Climate change is a hard problem to solve, and solutions to it require analytic discipline. Since the top 20 emitting countries create the most global emissions, the majority of which come from energy production and industrial processes, the fight for climate change typically focuses on these target areas. The energy and industrial sectors are the major culprits, but action in every sector counts.
For example, in 2006, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and partners funded a workshop to discuss the need for a common set of curriculum guidelines specifically for climate education to be used at the local, state, and national levels. The resulting climate literacy curriculum has been implemented in numerous regions around the US.
Also, as climate change advocates, we know how important it is to connect with our audiences through effective messaging. Cultural models are activated by associated networks of information, so we need to recognize what to advance and what to avoid. The goal of effective climate change communication is to focus on how nature supports humans.
Policies to address climate change will bear directly on the future of individuals in the US, impacting everything from their financial status, lifestyles, and local community culture. No longer can we assume that our elected officials will take climate change matters into their legislative hands for the betterment of society at large.
Each of us as citizens need to be actively involved in the quest to reduce GHG emissions in our nations.