After many years of working on climate change with a focus in Sonoma County, I traveled to Paris for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP-21, earlier this month. I was part of a delegation from the Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability, with support from Sonoma County’s Center for Climate Protection. Our delegation calls for a cap and price on carbon, with dividends distributed equitably across the world.
The Paris climate talks culminated in an agreement in which 196 countries pledged to limit global greenhouse gases below a dangerous rise of 2 degrees Celsius, with a preferred target of 1.5 degrees. They also agreed that fossil fuels would no longer be in use in the second half of the 21st Century.
That’s pretty bold, but the actual commitments from countries add up to an estimated 3.7 degree Celsius increase in temperature by the end of the century, which would lead to several meters of sea level rise and untold misery for developing countries, low-lying areas and island nations. The real work remains to be done.
A good portion of that work will likely take place at the local, regional and state levels. Cities and regions like Sonona County were well-represented at COP-21, and they shared their success stories of transitioning from fossil fuels to cleaner energy. California was also well-represented, and Sonoma Clean Power was mentioned at several events featuring community-choice energy. My lesson for California, Sonoma County and sister jurisdictions is to keep taking leadership. The Paris Agreement will likely fail without this.
On a more somber note, the Paris climate conference was held under the shadow cast by the recent terrorist attacks. During COP-21, France’s National Front, an anti-immigrant political party, won several regional elections, while Donald Trump proposed banning Muslims from entering the country.
When a hurricane wipes out a shantytown, and the science points to the cause being extravagant lifestyles of the global North, we should not be surprised if it results in cycles of terrorism and right-wing reactionary backlash. Let’s head that off, and work together toward a peaceful, just and climate-protected world.
Mike Sandler is co-founder of the Center for Climate Protection Campaign and a former program manager at the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority.
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