Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What does the Paris Climate Agreement have to do with....the Bainbridge Island Comprehensive Plan?

By Lara Hansen

Bainbridge Island, WA is a long way from COP21 but climate change is not just a conversation for Paris. The agreement from the City of Light gave us the foundation for a path forward, some aspiration and some new commitment. However it does not give us the whole solution to the global climate conundrum we’ve created for ourselves. Solutions will need to be at the global level, like those we’ve started in Paris, but they will also need to be at the local level, like those people are developing in towns such as Bainbridge Island.

This fall while negotiators were preparing their positions and balancing their willingness to compromise, citizens of Bainbridge Island have been discussing the update of the city's Comprehensive Plan. Just like everywhere else that has such a plan, they are considering how to frame their collective desires around issues like transportation, housing, land use, water, utilities, the economy, and the environment. But they are doing something a little different. The community is also considering how climate change will affect their island home and how the Comprehensive Plan could be made more durable in the face of that change, so they can get better long-term outcomes despite their vulnerabilities.

Just like we don't know for certain if the Paris Agreement will be enough to get us on the right path, we'll have to watch what happens on Bainbridge Island to know if it's successful. So stay tuned...and in the meantime, get your own community working to develop climate-informed actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and plan for the effects of climate change.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A global climate deal is in the works, but its success may be a matter of degrees

By: Rachel M. Gregg

As David Horsey's cartoon indicates, coming to an international agreement on climate change has been a long and laborious process. However, an agreement to curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions may finally become reality this month. The 21st Conference of the Parties (or COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) is convening in Paris, and all signs indicate that a deal may be imminent, although challenges still lie ahead. 

COP21 builds off of previous agreements and attempts to finalize a global compact on climate change, such as the UNFCC and the Kyoto Protocol. The UNFCC, signed during the 1992 Earth Summit, officially acknowledged climate change and the significant contributions of human activities to GHG concentrations, particularly from developed countries. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol then set GHG reduction commitments for developed nations by 2008-2012, but essentially failed without the backing of the United States. Since then, COP delegates have gathered annually to discuss ways to create a legally binding climate agreement, resulting in various “plans to plan for a plan.” For example, COP15 in Copenhagen resulted in an agreed upon goal of capping increasing temperatures at 2° Celsius[i] but no plans were produced on how to achieve the needed reduction targets.

An encouraging difference between COP15 and COP21 is that countries submitted individual commitments towards reducing GHG emissions before the Paris meetings. Top polluters such as China, the United States, and India have all made pledges to voluntarily curb emissions and pursue renewable energy technologies. Concerns remain as these plans are not legally binding and some estimates indicate that even with these cuts, temperatures may still rise 2.7°C by 2100.

Other significant challenges include:

     The question of whether or not any agreement will be legally binding under international law, as well as how effective any deal can be without the support of every single country.

     The 2 degree limit is too high for some COP21 delegates. Countries comprising the Climate Vulnerable Forum that are most at risk from the impacts of climate change have argued strongly for any Paris deal to focus on the tougher limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius, which would require countries to cut emissions to zero and adopt 100% renewable energy sources by 2050.

     It is not clear how well any new policies or technologies will be financed.  

There are however, reasons to be hopeful. Over 20 years of negotiations have led to this moment. The draft agreement calls for both mitigation and adaptation responses by every party; for example, the proposed plan prioritizes the conservation of forests and open spaces to enhance carbon storage potential and additional ecosystem services, such as clean water, healthy economies, and overall resilience. Mitigation is clearly important as countries seek to curb emissions, and adaptation continues to be important as the world is already committed to the climatic changes associated with past emissions. While the world waits to see if COP21 will produce the climate compact we need, consider taking some steps yourself to reduce your carbon footprint and become a climate-informed global citizen.

[i] For insight into why the 2 degree limit is so important, check out this video by SkyNews, along with its series on the consequences of a 3 degree, 4 degree, or even 5 degree temperature increase, which becomes more likely should countries fail to act.