Monthly Archives: June 2017

How the Paris Agreement Really Works

By | Climate Caretakers, Climate Change | No Comments

 

Coal power plant with energy solar panels

Since last week’s announcement that Trump would be leaving the Paris Agreement, the internet and social media have exploded both with fierce denunciations and stalwart defenses of his decision.  Climate Caretakers has taken a strong position against leaving Paris—an argument which has precipitated diverse reactions.

Two things in particular have stood out to me from the comments of those criticizing our position.  First, the foundations of support for Trump’s decision rely mostly on inaccurate information about how the Paris Agreement works.  Second, the values behind such critiques reflect legitimate concerns that should be looked at.  Let’s look at the details of the agreement more closely to better understand what we’re talking about.

The Paris Agreement is an agreement between 195 nations to individually and collectively reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid the worst repercussions of climate change, which would greatly and permanently harm millions of people, countless ecosystems, and the global economy.  Unlike the flawed Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement incorporates global participation, with every country participating in emission reductions.  The agreement intentionally has no enforcement mechanism and relies on voluntary commitments by individual nations.

The only mandatory component of the Paris Agreement is for each party to report annually on their progress toward reaching their greenhouse gas reduction target.  Countries don’t even need to realize their targets to remain in the agreement—just report on their progress.

A corollary to the Paris Agreement is the more controversial Green Climate Fund (GCF).  This fund provides adaptation assistance for developing countries struggling to adapt to the climatic changes already happening.  The GCF is funded through voluntary contributions by wealthy countries, with nearly all industrialized nations participating.  The funds go to support projects like irrigation, agricultural technology, drought-resistant crops, infrastructure to protect from sea level rise, etc.  All funds go to impoverished countries and projects are monitored to ensure against waste and corruption.

 

So, what are some of the common misconceptions about the Paris Agreement?

It’s an income redistribution scheme

One of the primary arguments used against the agreement is that it’s really just a way to redistribute income.  In actuality, the Paris Agreement has no mandatory financial requirements for signatory nations.  All contributions are voluntary and are handled through the GCF (not the Paris Agreement).  It is permissible for any nation to stop their GCF contributions and yet still remain in the agreement.  Moreover, GCF contributions go toward projects aimed at alleviating extreme poverty and hunger, which have been exacerbated by climate change.  In addition, it’s not countries like China who are benefitting from the GCF, but truly impoverished countries like Bangladesh and Malawi, who have done nothing to contribute to the problem, but suffer some of the most severe impacts.

It disadvantages the United States vis-à-vis China

This is simply not true.  While China’s greenhouse gas reduction target is less ambitious than ours, it’s important to remember a couple things.  First, China has four times as many people.  On a per capita basis, the United States still emits more than twice as much greenhouse gases as China.  Second, China is still a developing economy.  They’re much better off than many countries, but their economy still needs to grow in order to bring hundreds of millions out of poverty.

Third, China is making enormous investments in renewable energy—pledging $360 billion over the next 4 years.  They already have more solar and wind energy than the United States.  Additionally, while much has been made of China’s polluting power plants, they’re turning around quickly.  Earlier this year the country closed down 103 planned coal plants, including many that were already under construction.  China is firmly committed to taking action on climate change.  If we abandon our commitments, we will soon take China’s place as the polluting pariah of the world.

It will cost American jobs

No statement could be farther from the truth.  The solar industry, for example, employs more people than the coal, oil, and natural gas industries combined.  In scaling back our efforts to address climate change we are only hindering our own job growth by relying on dirty, outdated energy technology that will soon become obsolete.  Experts note that the long-term cost of failing to act on climate change far exceeds any short-term costs associated with the energy transition to renewables.  In fact, financial superpower Citigroup puts the global cost of delayed action on climate at $44 trillion.

Every other country in the world is acting to address climate change, including our closest allies and our greatest competitors.  Failing to act on climate and abandoning the Paris Agreement puts us at a competitive and a diplomatic disadvantage with these countries by giving preference to losing industries at a time when the world is shifting away from such technologies.

It involves a loss of American sovereignty

Actually, every aspect of the agreement is voluntary.  Voluntary reduction targets and timelines, voluntary contributions to the GCF, etc.  The agreement was intentionally made unenforceable in order to address this concern.

It won’t solve climate change

This critique is accurate–in a sense.  The greenhouse gas reductions pledged by the 195 signatory nations are probably enough to limit global warming to around 2.7 degrees Celsius—above the red line of 2.0 degree Celsius which most experts have cautioned against exceeding. Nevertheless, because Paris is the first truly global agreement on emissions reductions, it represents a critical first step, as well as a long-term blueprint, for solving the problem.  For this reason, the agreement is a landmark achievement.  Paris alone isn’t enough, but without Paris there is no path to success.

We can renegotiate a better deal for the United States

First of all, because everything in the agreement is voluntary, there’s nothing about the current agreement that disadvantages the United States.  Second, literally every other nation on earth except two (Syria and Nicaragua) are party to this agreement–and they like it.  Finally, a large number of countries—including industrialized nations in Europe and a good portion of the developing world—lobbied for stronger targets and a more forceful agreement in Paris.   The final Paris Agreement was dumbed down primarily because of expected opposition from the United States.

In other words, many nations who are party to this agreement have already made compromises in order to accommodate us.  Remember, climate change is only a controversial issue in the United States–everywhere else in the world it’s understood to be a disturbing reality that must be urgently dealt with.  They’re not going to renegotiate a new deal unless it’s stronger.

 

The Paris Agreement represents a critical step in tackling the most challenging and threatening problem that humanity has ever faced.  It’s not the perfect solution, but it’s a good one.  And our planet needs it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump may be out, but we’re still in

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Solar panels field on a plateau in France

Trump may be out, but we’re still in

Trump’s selfish and immoral act of ignorance this past week are nothing less than a betrayal of the global community.  In backing out of the Paris Agreement, the United States has ceded all credibility and leadership on the global stage.  Moreover, we have abandoned the poor, the vulnerable, and all of God’s creation in favor of fossil fuel companies, outdated technology, and partisan rhetoric.  It is a disgusting and shameful action, and Mr. Trump will be judged mercilessly by future generations and by those who are already feeling the impacts of climate change.

And yet, while things may look ugly now, I’m still hopeful.  I’m hopeful because no matter what Trump does, he can’t stop the undeniable momentum of those of us committed to a clean and just energy future.  His actions won’t change the fact that renewables are already more cost effective than fossil fuels in much of the world.  He can’t stop the rest of the world from leading on climate, as China and the E.U. stop forward.

More importantly, he can’t stop us (you and I) from achieving our own Paris commitments!

I’m encouraged by people like Michael Bloomberg, who today committed to meeting the United States’ financial commitments to the Paris Agreement out of his own personal wealth!

I’m encouraged by the 10 U.S. governors and 186 mayors who have committed their states and cities to the Paris Agreement.

I’m encouraged by every one of you for committing yourselves to taking action on climate change.  It isn’t always easy, and sometimes it costs us in time, money, and even relationships.  But it is the right thing to do, and your persistence inspires me daily.

I’m encouraged by groups like Interfaith Power & Light, who have launched a campaign for faith-based groups to stick with the Paris Agreement.

We’re working on the details, but stay tuned in the next few weeks for a new campaign by Climate Caretakers that will give you the opportunity to meet your own Paris Agreement target.  Last week’s news may be discouraging, but I’m more pumped up than ever.  We can do this!  You can do this!  Let’s show Trump that Christians in the United States are committed and willing to put ourselves to work to meet our commitments.

More soon…

In Christ,
Brian Webb

If you’re not a member of Climate Caretakers, please take a moment to join our community.  We are a group of ordinary Christians committed to pray for and act on climate change.  Will you join us?

 

Almighty God,

We are discouraged by the recent news and mourn the U.S. failure of leadership.  Forgive us, Lord, especially those of us from the United States, for our country’s failure and betrayal of our global brothers and sisters.

And yet, heavenly Father we are encouraged, for we know that you are with us!  We know that you are powerful and you can help us make a statement.  Grant us wisdom, perseverance, and humility as we boldly set forth with the goal of meeting our own Paris commitments.  Grant our leadership team wisdom as we discern the best way to lead our small group of committed advocates in lowering our own carbon footprints.  Give us commitment and endurance.

We praise you, God, for graciousness and strength in this trying time.  In Christ’s name we pray, Amen

An American Betrayal

By | Climate Caretakers, Climate Change | No Comments

cop21

It’s official; the United States of America has ceded its moral leadership on the global stage, and it will take decades (if not longer) to get it back.  By abandoning the Paris Agreement, Donald Trump has betrayed his party (more Republicans favor remaining in the Paris Agreement than those who favor leaving it), his country, his children and grandchildren, and indeed the entire global community.

In doing so, the United States joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries to stand against the other 194 nations of the world by rejecting the Paris Agreement.  Yet, unlike war-torn Syria or tiny Nicaragua, the United States remains the world’s second-largest contributor to global warming.  Only China (with 4x our population) barely exceeds the United States.

The Paris Agreement was drafted largely with the United States in mind, in order to accommodate a “least common denominator” approach to climate action.  That is to say, the rest of the world understood that the U.S. would be the sticking point, but also that an agreement without American participation would be tantamount to climate failure.  Even upon ratification, the agreement was universally understood to be deficient in its ability to adequately keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius—the benchmark many scientists have identified as necessary to avoid catastrophic global warming. Likewise, the U.S. commitment of a 26% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2025 was embarrassingly modest compared to other nations and compared to the scope of our contribution to the problem.

Nevertheless, the Paris Agreement served as monumental achievement and a critical starting point that would allow the world to finally begin to build a unified plan for solving climate change.  More importantly, Paris was the first truly global climate agreement with support from 195 nations, including the U.S., India, China, the EU and every major industrialized nation on earth.

Today, Donald Trump has betrayed humanity, relegating the now former “leading nation of the free world” to a pariah state devoid of integrity, consumed by greed, and obsessed with self-centered aggrandizement.  This is my country, and it pains me to write it, but we are entering a new era—one in which the United States of America no longer has any moral credibility within the global community.

So, what do we do, those of us who call ourselves Americans—indeed who love this country and long for its continued leadership–but who mourn such a betrayal?

First, we must acknowledge our own shortcomings.  I am complicit in this betrayal because my personal carbon footprint still greatly exceeds that which the world can sustain. I am working to change this, and I thank God for his grace (as well as the grace shown by my global brothers and sisters), but it is still my country that has wronged others.

Second, we must let our leaders know that such betrayal is morally wrong, and is inconsistent with both our biblical and our American values.  Write or call your leaders to let them know that Trump’s rejection of the Paris Agreement is immoral and should not be tolerated.

Third, we must continue to stand for what is right.  There is a quote by the great agrarian philosopher Wendell Berry which has inspired me during the dark times of the past six months.  Berry states; “Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.” Do I have much hope of changing Donald Trump’s mind about the Paris Agreement or climate change?  Not really.  But, like the prophets of old, I will continue to proclaim God’s truth without apology, and I will continue to stand for compassion, righteousness, justice, and integrity in the face of a great moral tragedy.

The world needs us, and we have abandoned them.  But as long as men and women of faith continue to stand for what is right, there is hope for our brothers and sisters suffering from the impacts of foolish decisions.