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When Are The Biggest Carbon-Producing Countries Going To Wake Up?

Did recent UN climate talks produce any gutsy commitments to carbon reduction?

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely you live in one of the biggest carbon-producing countries in the world. The US is second in the world with 16.2 metric tons per person emitted annually — only China surpasses it. Are you Canadian? Your country is 10th. Australian? 16th. German? #6. Mexican? #11.

“Full Moon Rising,” Carolyn Fortuna/ CleanTechnica

None of these top carbon polluting awards are anything of which to be proud. And something is going to break really soon if the biggest carbon-producing countries don’t enforce big changes, and quickly.

The warnings of a climate emergency have been around for a long, long time. Sure, some nations are working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, yet the overall worldwide use of fossil fuels – and associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – grew last year. You might think that the world’s climate leaders would be able to gather and consider ways to strengthen the implementation of the Paris Agreement, right?

Well, this year’s UN Climate Change Conference COP25 in Madrid just came to an end, and the member countries failed to come to agreement on the guidelines for a much-needed carbon market.

To the leaders of the world’s greatest polluting countries: shame on you. What kind of world are you leaving your grandchildren?

A carbon market is an essential part of the toolkit to raise ambition that can harness the potential of the private sector and generate finance for adaptation, according to Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa. In a statement released on December 19, Espinosa argued that “it is important to conduct an honest and realistic assessment of what happened so that appropriate measures can be taken by the international community in guiding the next crucial steps in the multilateral climate process next year.”

“Down the Drain,” Carolyn Fortuna/ CleanTechnica

What has happened is that the world’s most powerful leaders are beholden to fossil fuel companies, and to untie the political apron strings would mean nearly immediate career demise for these career suck-ups.

If you’re in the US, you can figure out if your legislators fall in to this category pretty easily. Check out the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge signers. Here’s their promise:

“I pledge not to take contributions over $200 from oil, gas, and coal industry executives, lobbyists, and PACs and instead prioritize the health of our families, climate, and democracy over fossil fuel industry profits.”

It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Yet many politicians in the US and elsewhere cannot make the break from a tried-and-true pool of donations that propel them to a win in elections. Without government support for elections that would come through campaign finance reform, running for office means that candidates are dependent on enormous stockpiles of wealth to fund media persuasion campaigns. According to data provided by OpenSecrets, prior to signing the pledge, nearly all of the US 2020 Democratic candidates took money from fossil fuel executives, other employees, and via political action committees, with the surveys looking back as far as 1989.

Yet Espinosa says that commitments from many sectors of society showed an “overwhelming agreement on the only way forward: that we need to follow what science is telling us, with the sense of urgency and seriousness that this requires.” She outlines that the focus now needs to be on “our undivided attention on the next steps to further strengthen the trust in the multilateral process.”

In a type of bait-and-switch tactic, the largest carbon-producing countries have yet to fully address the calls from what are sometimes referred to as developing countries for enhanced support in finance, technology and capacity building. Developing countries cannot green their economies and build adequate resilience to climate change without assistance.

Espinosa says that high-emitting countries “did not send a clear enough signal” that they are ready to improve their climate strategies and ramp up ambition through the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) they will submit next year. Without a clear pathway from the largest carbon-producing countries, it will be difficult if not impossible for countries with less built infrastructures to stand alone and lay claim to robust NDCs for 2020 and beyond.

There was some hope at COP25. The final decision texts did contain declarations from governments for what Espinosa termed “more ambition” by parties to the Paris Agreement and non-state actors alike. They concurred that it is essential to improve the ability of the most vulnerable to adapt to climate change, acknowledging the role of climate finance as essential for concrete action.

With decisions made in areas including technology, oceans and agriculture, gender, and capacity building, some forward momentum was achieved at COP25. Espinosa shared that “a large group of countries, regions, cities, businesses, and investors signaled their intention to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050, as part of the Climate Ambition Alliance led by Chile. Also rallying under the Climate Ambition Alliance, 114 nations have meanwhile signaled their intention to submit an enhanced climate action plan next year.”

Of course, everything returns to the NDCs. There just were not enough major global economies at COP25 that signaled that they are ready to move toward meaningful climate ambition through improved plans.

The next opportunity for countries to come together and work toward significant NDCs will be at the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow, where Espinosa says that being united and working in a “true spirit of inclusive multilateralism” could make the difference to realize the promises of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“Together, with all sectors of the economy and societies at large,” Espinosa reminds us, “we must work tirelessly to address the greatest challenge of our generation.”

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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