Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 10 December 2015

Working together toward a climate change agreement in Paris


By Ambassador Jerry Lanier,

The signs of climate change are everywhere and the shared decisions of the international community this week will shape the climate into which our children, and grandchildren, will be born. But this is not just about the future — there are immediate benefits to addressing the causes and consequences of climate change.

These stakes could hardly be higher at the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris, November 30 to December 11. Representatives from almost 200 nations are gathered and negotiating a comprehensive climate agreement for the post-2020 world. There is social and political will to do something about the effects of rising global temperatures. More than 160 countries, responsible for around 90 percent of emissions, announced climate targets ahead of the conference. This is a clear step forward and a departure from the past. As a reference, only about 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions were addressed under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The United States is taking bold action at home. Since President Obama took office, we have reduced carbon emissions, tripled domestic wind energy production, and increased solar power twenty fold. We have initiated stringent new fuel standards so our cars use less gas, overall energy use is more efficient, and historic amounts of land and water have been protected for future generations. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy has expanded, proving that growth is not inextricably linked to carbon output. More than 80 U.S. companies have signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, committing to actions such as investing in renewable energy and reducing waste. Going forward, our Clean Power Plan will cut U.S. power sector emissions by 32 percent by 2030 saving billions of dollars in climate and health-related costs. And it’s not just the U.S. Government that is engaged. American cities, businesses, and individuals all play critical roles in turning climate policy into action.

The intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) describes the Sahel region at the most vulnerable in the world to droughts, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Office in Sudan reported an increased risk of food insecurity in Sudan to lack of rain. In 2007, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called fighting in Darfur “the world’s first climate change conflict”, driven by desertification and scare pasture and water resources that aggravate recurring tensions between farmers and herders. To try to mitigate some of these effects, the United States has supported environmental sustainable assistance projects such as the rehabilitation of North Darfur’s Tawila Dam. At the personal level, the United States also has funded fuel efficient cook stoves in Darfur camps for people displaced by conflict, cutting wood use in half and significantly reducing emissions.

As chair of the Africa Group of COP21 negotiators, Sudan articulated the following priorities: food security, drought mitigation, water resource management, anti-desertification, anti-deforestation, carbon-sequestration, and land use. While the international community confronts these challenges together, we must seek solutions that best fit individual societies. In Sudan, where urbanization is quickly increasing, how the country responds to rural citizens competing for urban space will impact how it manages other environmental challenges. Engaging with the private sector on an integrated rural development approach could help to modernize local communities with new roads and schools, increase sustainable access to electricity and water, preserve ecosystems, and generate income, while slowing the flow of people to cities.

In Paris, the United States is pushing for an effective agreement to drive ambitious climate action by all countries, while recognizing differences among them. It should provide a long-term framework – with transparency and accountability - that calls on nations to raise their targets over time, and supports countries in need toward low-carbon development and adaptation to climate change. With leaders from almost every nation in Paris, we have a historic opportunity. We have the political will and social support to make it work, but we need to come together to reach a deal. For brighter skies today and a more secure tomorrow, now is the time to act.

Ambassador Lanier is the Chargé d’Affaires at the United States Embassy in Sudan

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