Developed Countries Need to Step up on Energy Reform


Warsaw Climate Talks Opened this week

In a disheartening report by the New York Times this morning, Japan declares it will not meet the reduced carbon emissions target it set for 2020, citing the Fukushima disaster of 2011. The country is currently using zero percent nuclear power, which had previously supplied around 30% of the nation’s energy. As an energy source that released no carbon emissions, this obviously presented a major setback. Of course, one is infinitely sympathetic to Japan’s shutdown of its nuclear facilities, given that the destructive trifecta of 9.0 magnitude Earthquake, Typhoon and the meltdown of three nuclear reactors caused the evacuation of 100,000 people, and took the lives of over 19,000 in March, 2011. It was the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, which still affects lives today.

Amid global skepticism and fear over the risks of nuclear power (and understandably so) emerges an open letter from four esteemed climate scientists pleading with environmental policy makers to change their stance on nuclear power before we reach a tipping point; in their view, its our best solution. Nuclear has the twin benefits of zero carbon emissions and the strength to handle our massive demands for lights, heat and cooling.

Significant action against climate change is slow to permeate any countries, even the ones that raise the most fanfare. Changes are being made, but not enough and not with unanimous cooperation. Based on the limp description of the Copenhagen summit in 2009 below, it would appear this meeting wasn’t even worth the carbon emissions of the private jets world leaders undoubtedly took to get there.

Climate negotiations have been moving at a glacial pace since a meeting in Copenhagen in 2009 that ended in acrimony after the United States and rapidly developing countries like China were unable to come to terms on how to allocate responsibility,” write Hiroko Tabuchi and David Jolly in Japan Shelves Plans to Slash Emissions, Citing Fukushima

Currently, world leaders are meeting in Warsaw, with last week’s devastating Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines a serious reminder of the consequences of continued stasis. Nadarev Saño, Phillipines representative at the conference, connects climate change with Haiyan, and does not doubt more powerful storms will continue as sea levels and average temperatures rise.

“As the Earth warms up, that would include the oceans. The energy that is stored in the waters off the Philippines will increase the intensity of typhoons and the trend we now see is that more destructive storms will be the new norm,” Saño, who is fasting during the conference to pressure world leaders to take action, tells National Geographic. “We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, having to count our dead become a way of life…Typhoons such as Haiyan and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action.”

The Warsaw conference comes at the heels of another progressive flip-flopper in Australia:

“While Japan’s surprisingly modest plan was an unwelcome development to climate delegates, it was just one of many indications that negotiators will have a difficult time arranging anything beyond a cosmetic deal in Warsaw. It comes just two days after Australia’s new conservative government introduced a bill in Parliament to repeal the carbon tax enacted by its Labor predecessor.” (Tabuchi, Jolly)

Among the various disturbing effects of climate change is the blatant injustice inherent in the burden of these effects. The Philippines, a relatively poor country, lacks the infrastructure or economy to deal with the increased magnitude of natural disasters that will be the result of global warming. More developed nations, however, are responsible for the bulk of emissions. While everyone will experience the fallout, it’s clear that poorer nations will be less able to defend, rebuild, protect and provide aid when more powerful and erratic weather strikes, and as less powerful nations, it has to be up to us: The U.S., Japan and China, to take the next, and most significant steps.

However, embedded within the report is a sort of silver lining. Together, the globe’s top five carbon emitters (India, China, Russia, U.S. and Japan) make up 70% of global emissions. Getting the act together of five countries sounds a lot easier than trying to change and monitor progress in the other 191.

It’s definitely time to stop handling treaties, protocols and carbon taxes with lackluster adhesion. If we can’t provide cohesive leadership on energy reform, who will? Especially given that energy demand will continue to rise as developing countries want the same access to resources and opportunities for growth that we had.

I perceive our biggest issue to be coalescing a “green” agenda, with “our” agenda. The divisiveness between those who are for job creation and robust economic growth and those who favor regulations and restrictions always results in compromises where nothing really gets done. It’s time for the Warsaw summit and conferences like it to honor both of these aims as being on the same side, and uphold a vision of a prosperous, safe and sustainable future. As for how that happens, we’ll be watching the Warsaw talks closely.