South Korea and Japan, which decommissioned its nuclear power plants after the Fukushima earthquake, both are building new coal-fired plants. With the world’s second-biggest country carbon emitter seeming to be taking steps backwards, all of these countries could be emboldened to do nothing about climate change – Japan in particular, which suffers an enormous energy deficit because of the closure of some of its nuclear plants after the earthquake.
The Clean Power Plan was the most far-reaching of the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce the country’s carbon emissions. According to The Conversation, an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community, Obama’s CPP “gives states the option of developing plans to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from power plants or letting the EPA develop the plans for them.”
In effect, that would reduce GHG emissions by 870 million tonnes or 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Aside from the US Supreme Court stay, the US has – behind the scenes – been reluctant to match its rhetoric with its performance. It was known to have blocked many policies inside the climate negotiations. The climate agreement was endangered when US Secretary of State John Kerry called for a closed-door meeting after the final draft of the agreement used “shall” (legally binding) instead of “should” (less binding) pertaining to emission reduction targets.
The agreement was signed after the original sentence, “Developed Country Parties shall continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets” was changed to “Developed country Parties should continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets.”
If anything, this goes to show how committed the United States really was in turning the climate agreement into concrete action.
During Obama’s speech at the Conference of Parties (COP) 21 in Paris, he acknowledged the US’s role in climate change and promised to take responsibility.
“I’ve come here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second largest emitter, to say that the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it,” Obama said.
If the United States can’t keep its commitments and will not cut its emissions, the climate agreements have failed. The Paris agreement was negotiated on for more than two decades and was largely built on trust. To break that trust spells doom, not only on the agreement, but on the future of humanity.
Will the United States take its commitments seriously? It needs to. But the Supreme Court’s decision to stay the CPP is making a farce out of the negotiations. The US is showing it can easily decide on its own, without regard on what was agreed in Paris. It now needs to show its sincerity and seriousness in leading the path to low emission development.
The need for the US to lower its emissions is non-negotiable, especially for countries whose very survival now rests on concrete climate action. The Paris agreement will only remain an agreement, a piece of paper, unless things are done on the ground. We need to see governments working, changing policies, investing in and implementing carbon reduction projects.
We cannot have another Kyoto Protocol, the agreement put together in 2005 and which has been roundly ignored by most nations. The US, for instance, refused to ratify it. We cannot afford to fail this time around. We no longer have the leeway, the world has warmed rapidly and we are already at nature’s mercy.
Renee Juliene Karunungan is the Communications Director and climate campaigner of Dakila, an organization that has been working on climate justice since 2009.