Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

The climate won't wait for an inadequate international agreement

By John Harte

Something will be agreed upon in Copenhagen…the real issue is whether or not it will be effective in dealing with the enormous threat to civilization posed by sea level rise, drought and famine, ecosystem destruction, and other consequences of climate warming.  My concern is that action in Copenhagen will simply take the form of agreement on one or the other of the two types of target currently being discussed: keeping the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere below some critical value,  say 400 parts per million, or keeping the temperature increase below some critical value, say 2 degrees Celsius. Targets like those are inadequate, however, because they do not lead to prescriptions for actual policy.   Let’s set and adhere to targets that bear some relationship to actual policy.

I hope that out of Copenhagen, we see the nations of the world committing to a target of cutting  greenhouse gas emissions as cost effectively, as rapidly, and as deeply as possible.  Getting emissions down to 1/4 of their current level by the year 2030 is a reasonable goal and it could be achieved by increasing energy use efficiency and replacing fossil fuels with wind, solar, and clean geothermal energy.  Along with investing in developing new electric storage technologies, modernizing the electric grid, reducing climate-altering gases from agriculture, and protecting the carbon reservoirs in the world’s remaining forests, these specific targets,  if adopted and adhered to, could hugely reduce the threat of climate change and also help build a stronger world economy.  If the rest of the world does not go along, it is still in the U.S.’s economic and environmental interest to expeditiously adopt these policies.