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Friday, Jul 31, 2009, 7:42 am

Weekly Mulch: Why Diplomacy is Key to Fighting Climate Change

By Raquel Brown
International climate negotiations are currently bogged down in smog. Many countries are in disagreement about the best way to go about reducing emissions and curbing climate change. Some, like the U.S. and Great Britain, are working together to cut carbon emissions; while others say it's their way or the highway. Until the air clears, it will be difficult to determine which global leaders are making the most effective choices—or even what the best path to a cleaner earth will be.

On Tuesday, the world’s two leading polluters, the United States and China, finally signed a “memorandum of understanding” and pledged to work together to create a global solution to arrest climate change by December’s United Nations summit in Copenhagen, as Stephen Robert Morse reports for Mother Jones. The two countries have long disagreed on the best way to control climate change and used each other as an excuse for inaction. Disagreements have centered around which country should pay for clean-ups and new technologies.

As Agence Grance-Presse emphasizes in Grist, China and other developing nations have argued that they shouldn't have to cut their emissions, as the bulk of pollution comes from industrialized countries. Developing countries do not have the means to finance a more energy efficient economy and many argue that the U.S. should take a leadership role and help them.

India made a similar point when Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited last week. India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, was remarkably candid when he told her that India would not succumb to international pressures to set targets on emissions. After all, as Barbara Crossette points out for The Nation, developing countries shouldn't have to clean up after rich countries' negligence. Although India has a strong economy and is one of the world's largest polluters, their rising population keeps per capita emissions lower than other developed nations.

Yet, actions speak louder than worlds. Going back to Grist, Grance-Presse notes that despite China’s non-committal stance, it has made significant strides in wind and solar power. Their next step towards improved energy efficiency should be reducing its coal-dependency, which accounts for 85 percent of its carbon emissions. However, as global temperatures continue to rise, it's clear that active collaboration between industrialized and developing nations is necessary to meaningfully tackle climate change.

Much like China, India has made gains towards renewable energy. At a conference organized by a OneWorld.net sister organization in India last week, Special Envoy to the Prime Minister on Climate Change, Shram Saran, explained that India will do "Whatever we can within the limitations of our resources." The country is exploring investments in solar, hydro, biomass and wind power. Some specific strategies are to replace incandescent with energy-saving flurescent bulbs, and to go "local" among Indian communities and farmers with a "people-centric" environmental campaign.

OneWorld reports that “This project intends to link grassroots communities, development practitioners, academia and policymakers with a view to encourage them to forge new partnerships with the government, domain experts, and community-based organizations working with vulnerable sections of society.”

Great Britain's innovative solution to climate change is the “clean energy cash back” program. According to Chelsea Green’s Paul Gipe, the program features feed-in tariffs for Combined Heat & Power (CHP), small solar PV systems on new homes and a tariff for existing homes. What distinguishes this from other tariffs are the added incentives: if a homeowner reduces their own consumption, they can sell the surplus electricity to the grid, and receive an additional paid bonus in return.

“The proposed program, like the successful programs it was modeled after, was designed to ‘set tariffs at a level to encourage investment in small scale low carbon generation.’ This is in contrast to faux feed-in tariffs that set the tariffs on the ‘value’ of renewable energy to the system as in the California Public Utility Commission’s largely ineffective program,” says Gipe.

Britain was the first to set legally binding carbon budgets when they passed Britain’s Climate Change Act last year. This low carbon policy aims to transform Britain’s economy and has a realistic shot at reaching the country’s renewable energy and carbon targets.

Meanwhile, how does the U.S. measure up? The Nation has an excellent overview of the current status and future of the climate bill. In this interview, the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin says that farming and manufacturing interests will be one of the key battles in passing climate change legislation through the Senate. The future of the Senate bill is also contingent on the outcome of international negotiations in Copenhagen. And although the ACES bill does not meet the requirements scientists believe are necessary to curb climate change, Eilperin remains optimistic that the bill sets up a valuable platform for successful legislation in the future, much like the Clean Air Act.

The U.S. appeared hypocritical when they urged other nations to reduce their carbon emissions and commit to climate change when they themselves haven't made strides. Rather than lead by example, Republicans like Michael Rogers (R-MI) opposed the U.S. climate change bill because the bill will “eliminate our middle class and send it to China and India,” as Osha Gray Davidson reports for Mother Jones. Some argue that a U.S. effort to cut carbon emissions will put America at an economic disadvantage if China and India do not take similar steps.

In other news, The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen reports on global warming skeptic James Inhofe's (R-Okla) shocking claim that burning oil doesn’t cause pollution. Really?! I thought we were past all that nonsense.

But there are pervasive problems on the home front too. As climate legislation dawdles in the Senate, few have considered how climate change will impact marginalized communities. In an article for In These Times, Michelle Chen highlights how global warming widens the climate gap and exacerbates social and racial inequalities:

“The reality is, poor people always lived in the most environmentally vulnerable places – places that were vulnerable before the climate change problem made them worse. The real problem in this country is we haven’t had a real serious discussion about the social equity issues connected to climate and environment. Sadly, too many people aren’t inclined to engage in that discussion,” said Elliot Sclar in an interview with Chen. Sclar is the director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University.

As the world tries to break the stalemate over how to reverse climate change, it is ambiguous whether the U.S. has encouraged any collective progress. While our government has taken small steps toward investments in alternative energy, other nations have leapt ahead in their commitment towards a sustainable environment.

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