On eve of climate talks, York activists stay positive

Julia Scheib

Monday, officials representing over 190 countries will gather for the Paris Climate Conference, otherwise known as COP21, or Conference of Parties. The conference marks the 21st year since the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) went into effect.

Un-affiliated independent activist Kevin L. Miller, of Lower Chanceford Township, is shown among the bamboo shoots near his koi pond at his co-owned 12-acre area, which spans three properties, where he and Allen Miller Arts partner Robert F. Allen, are planning to build a nature and art trail in Brogue, Pa. on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015. (Dawn J. Sagert - The York Dispatch)

As stated on the conference's website, through COP21 the UN hopes to achieve "a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2 degrees C," thereby avoiding catastrophe.

The conference will also include discussions on issues such as sustainable innovation and how to help poor countries affected by climate change.

The New York Times has reported that negotiators, most of whom submitted emissions-reduction plans ahead of time, will not come close to the U.N.'s  2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) limit.

Leaders of warming Earth meet in Paris to cut emissions

Also, the Times reports, they have rejected the idea of a "carbon budget," a solution proposed by scientists that would put a cap on total greenhouse-gas emissions allowed and divvy up between nations what remains.

This picture may look bleak, but local climate activists find reasons for optimism.

Local takes: Kevin Miller of Brogue is a co-founder of the HIVE of Planet Loving Activity, a local grass-roots organization fighting to stop climate change. He makes educational posters about climate change and aims to bring people together to talk about creative approaches to the issue of global warming.

"These climate talks are well-timed in the sense that the world is more poised than it ever has been to take action on climate," he said. "I'm feeling more optimistic than I have in the last 15 years."

Miller cited Pope Francis' advocacy for action on climate change and justice for poor people affected by environmental degradation as an encouraging development and said he's noticed more corporations coming around to the idea of acting on climate.

"More corporations are realizing that, as I like to say, extinction is bad for profits," he said.

But as far as the agreed-upon goal, the numbers don't look good. Earth has already warmed almost 1 degree C, he said, and even if we cut all emissions now, inertia from the warming so far would take us up another 0.8 degree C, making the 2-degree goal virtually unreachable.

Jon Clark of Dover is the Mid-Atlantic Region Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby and co-leads the York chapter of the organization, which aims to build political will for national policies to address climate change.

"I think a lot of people are looking at the Paris climate talks as an endgame," he said. "I think it's a start. It's the beginning of deeper commitments by countries (to address climate change)."

One reason both activists see for optimism is a resolution recently signed by 12 House Republicans saying that climate change is caused by human activity and that something needs to be done about it.

Our contribution: The U.S., the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, was among the many countries to submit their emissions-reducing commitments ahead of time. These commitments will back up agreements made in Paris.

The United States' intended nationally determined contribution (INDC), as it is called, pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

The Guardian reports that scientists are saying that's not enough.

“If all countries would do what the U.S. does, we are more on a pathway towards 3-4 (degrees) C,” climate-policy analyst Niklas Höhne told Agence France-Presse.

Our country's INDC rests on President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Obama was able to make this plan despite strong political opposition, said Clark, because he has the authority to reduce emissions through the EPA since carbon dioxide is considered a pollutant.

To cut emissions outside the power-generating sector, he said, Congress needs to act.

The CCL agenda: Citizens' Climate Lobby favors the idea of a carbon tax to push down emissions and incentivize growth in renewable energy. According to CCL's website, negotiators at the climate conference will not try to agree on a specific price on carbon.

But the organization hopes carbon pricing will be discussed and that negotiators will hash out a framework of principles for how to implement it.

Jon Clark, Citizens Climate Lobby

The fee would start out low, at something like $15 a ton, Clark said. "Very few entities would be taxed," he said, because the fee would go to those "upstream" in the economy: at mines or wellheads or points of entry to the country.

The revenue would be given straight back to citizens, he said.

British Columbia has had a tax on carbon for seven years, according to carbontax.org.

As a result of the tax, the Canadian province has been able to lower its personal income and corporate taxes, Clark said.

Because one prevailing myth that serves those who are against U.S. action on climate is that the world's most polluting country is doing nothing to curb climate change, Clark said, people might be surprised to hear that China is working on its own carbon tax.

A carbon tax appeals to many businesses and conservatives, he said, because it is a "market-based" approach to cutting carbon.

It would be more effective than EPA regulations and could spread to other countries while protecting U.S. businesses, he said, because our country could implement a tariff on foreign goods from countries without their own carbon tax.

Clark is optimistic about his organization's chosen solution, which he said is becoming more and more politically feasible. Those who fight to maintain business as usual are "fighting a losing battle," he said.

— Reach Julia Scheib at jscheib@yorkdispatch.com.