For the past couple of months, we've seen a one-of-a-kind rush in the media to cover stories on deforestation, climate change and carbon markets ahead of the climate conference in Copenhagen (COP15). It was about time that these issues joined the mainstream: for most Americans, the need to lower global carbon emissions had been a distant and elusive reality. Most of us have failed to consider our country's climate debt and, as individuals, we've felt powerless besides making the choice to ride our bikes to work or drive hybrid cars. Needless to say, this view doesn't even consider the growing number of Americans who are overall skeptical of the concept of climate change.
But getting back to Copenhagen: it's important to remember that the massive meeting in Denmark wasn't in and of itself the solution. A recent story on NPR put COP15's dysfunctional politicking into a clever perspective: "If you're having trouble understanding why the Copenhagen talks are making such slow progress, try imagining having 193 children in your family," the story went. "And every little decision has to be reached by consensus. You'd be lucky to get through breakfast."
The challenge of instituting a new global climate agreement for 2012 was obviously no small feat. But considering the gravity of global warming, especially for developing countries in East Asia, Africa and Latin America, it has been frustrating to witness the impasse in the negotiations from afar. After two weeks of talks, heated debates and street protests, COP15 kept the issues on the headlines but accomplished little. Instead of delivering a strong binding agreement and a commitment to reduce carbon emissions and deforestation, the participants went home over the weekend "taking note" of the need for a pact.
So what's next? Bill McKibben, founder of the activist portal 350.org, isn't optimistic. He says the meeting in Copenhagen "marked the beginning of the end of the UN. We've never taken it seriously for war and peace, and now carbon and global warming are off the table."
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced today the creation of a 225 million reais ($128 million) line of credit for recycling cooperatives—groups representing self-employed collectors of recyclable materials. The line of credit will be available over the next two years and will be financed by loans from the Brazilian Development Bank, known as the BNDES. More details of today’s announcement are forthcoming.
The collectors, or catadores, work throughout the country, pushing two-wheel carts to collect the country’s recycling. According to the government news agency, Agencia Brasil, there were 230,000 collectors in Brazil as of last year.
President Lula also called on mayors to form local cooperatives and to not outsource the collectors’ work to private companies. “If a mayor decides to terminate the employment of 200 to 300 employees in the recycling industry and give the job to a private company, then what will happen is instead of providing a salary to 300 individuals you would be helping only one,” according to Lula.
His timely announcement comes just as countries are gearing up for the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen and comes on top of other environmental initiatives. In the new Americas Quarterly, U.S. Senator John Kerry hailed Brazil’s efforts to reduce deforestation rates, a major contributor of carbon emissions.
At a Project Syndicate climate change meeting this week, billionaire George Soros announced a $1 billion investment in clean-energy technologies and the establishment of the Climate Policy Initiative. This new organization, which Soros will donate $100 million over the next 10 years, will advise and develop climate change policy in the U.S., Brazil, China, and Europe.
The Soros announcement comes in the same week that Americas Quarterly published its new issue on the environment. In it, five experts, when asked how to best protect the environment, addressed the need for greater public knowledge of environmental policies.
Increased public understanding of the consequences of a lack of action are critical for moving forward climate change legislation in the United States and to a global consensus when countries meet in Copenhagen in December. But the prospects for significant action on climate change this year are appearing to be fading. Pre-Copenhagen talks in Bangkok, Thailand, wrapped up without much consensus and only one more round of talks (in Barcelona, Spain) are scheduled before December’s gathering.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.