Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Can individual action save the day?

At a major United Nations climate summit in Warsaw this week, a plan is being hammered out (in the 19th annual effort) for negotiations on a new climate treaty to be finalized in Paris in two years’ time. Delegates from 195 nations are also seeking to obtain commitments from countries to limit their greenhouse-gas emissions between now and 2020.

The moot question : will it make any difference? The path ahead is rife with disputes between rich and poor countries over funding, and how to allocate and enforce emissions reductions. The conference aims to outline the schedule and to set parameters for negotiations ahead of the next major climate summit in Paris in 2015, when countries hope to forge a treaty to follow the 2009 agreement settled on in Copenhagen. At Copenhagen, negotiations over a formal treaty broke down, but eventually resulted in a set of non-binding pledges — the Copenhagen Accord — for emissions reductions until 2020. The accord also blurred the distinction between developed countries, which were bound by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions.

The Warsaw talks are split into two main tracks. One focuses on the architecture of a new global climate treaty that would take effect after 2020, when the current Copenhagen commitments expire. The second examines what can be done to strengthen commitments between now and 2020 to increase the chance of limiting global warming to a target of 2
°C above pre-industrial temperatures (see ‘Emissions up in the air?’).

Indigenous leaders from across North America met half a world away and offered a prophecy: The solution will never come via the UN talks. Tribal elders from the United States, Greenland and Mexico spoke of the need for individual action rather than government edicts, and of the difficulty – and urgency – of replacing economic questions with moral ones.

A return to the "old values:" Respect, concern for the future, and sharing – alone can help the world they believe. But as one elder pointed, it is a colossal task to get people to change. “How do you instruct 7 billion people as to their relationship to the Earth?" he asked. "It's very difficult – when you're struggling to protect your people and you're hanging by a thread – to instruct other people."

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