Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

3 Month Check-Up
distributed 3/11/16 - ©2016

Just three months ago, negotiators in Paris came to consensus on the historic agreement that will shape climate policies for decades.

At the end of the COP21 sessions, many diplomats offered comments along the lines of, "Today we can celebrate but tomorrow we have to act" or "History will not judge us from what we did today, but what we do from this day forward."

Thirteen weeks is not enough time for new national and international initiatives to play out, but it is enough time to see if the momentum of the Paris Accord is continuing. Is action happening? What does a quick check-up show at this three month point?

My list today is far from comprehensive, but it is suggestive. What other data points would you add? What is your emotional sense at this first assessment?

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I am encouraged by the news that came out of Washington, DC, yesterday, with statements from President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau. A detailed report from the Guardian leads off with this statement: "The US and Canada declared they would help lead the transition to a low-carbon global economy on Thursday, in a dramatic role reversal for two countries once derided as climate change villains."

Listing some of the topics covered by the US-Canada statement, the Guardian says, "The two leaders committed to rally G20 countries behind the accord, promote North American carbon markets, cap emissions from hundreds of thousands of existing oil and gas wells, and protect indigenous communities in a region which is warming beyond the point of no return."

Last week's Notes talked about the huge problem of methane that is vented, flared, or leaks from oil and gas operations, and how proposed new rules from the US Bureau of Land Management to cut methane emissions are a good step in the right direction. Yesterday, the US EPA tightened their agency's methane rules from what had been proposed last summer, so that the rules EPA also will apply to existing wells, not just new wells. And in yesterday's Obama-Trudeau statement, a joint pledge was made to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by up to 45% below 2012 levels within 10 years.

On the Arctic, said the Guardian, "the two countries said they would convene a high-level summit next August to try and keep pace with the record temperatures, sea ice loss, permafrost thaws and wildfires, that are creating dangerous and irreversible impacts in the polar region - but also contributing to changing weather patterns and sea-level rise globally." That summit will include Russia, China and Norway.

The effort to get other G20 countries to ratify the Parris Agreement is important. The agreement must be ratified by at least 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions before it can take effect. Most global leaders have not committed to a signing ceremony to be held in New York on Earth Day, April 22.

From my perspective, another piece of news yesterday -- originating from the business sector, not government -- is exciting and encouraging. Arch Coal has withdrawn its permit application for a huge mining operation in Montana. More than 1.3 billion tons of coal will be left in the ground. The end of the Otter Creek mine proposal has regional and global impacts. With no mine, there won't be massive rail shipments of coal through the Pacific Northwest, new coal export terminals in Washington won't be built, and that coal won't be shipped and burned in global markets. US government policies did help to shape the decision by Arch Coal, which referred to "an extended and uncertain permitting outlook."

So, a quick check-up, relying largely on this week's news, has promising indicators of the Paris Agreement still being taken seriously, and that still is guiding action by important nations.

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But -- did you see that "but" coming? -- the news isn't all upbeat.

A press release from this week points out numerous ways in which the US-Canada announcements fall far short of what is needed.

The need for ever more dramatic climate action -- local, regional, national and international -- is driven home by some recent data points.

  • In 2015, CO2 levels in the atmosphere had their largest jump on record, going up by 3.05 parts per million in one year. (In the late 1990s, the rule of thumb was to expect about a 1 ppm rise per year.) 2015 was the fourth year in a row that CO2 concentrations grew by more than 2 parts per million.
  • 2015 was the hottest year on record, by a substantial margin, and the first two months of 2016 have continued that trend with unprecedented temperature rises.
  • A week ago, one set of temperature measurements for the Northern Hemisphere charted readings of more than two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial "normal." Remember that, at the heart of the Paris Agreement, was the realization that temperatures must stay below that 2 degree line, and there was an aspirational goal of keeping below 1.5 degrees. But less than 3 months after Paris, we've briefly touched the 2 degree line.

Everybody knew, as the Paris negotiations closed, that the pledges of action from nations are not adequate. Based on the current pledges, we're headed toward 2.7 to 3.5 degrees of warming, which would be catastrophic. But the agreement also spells out that those pledges must be renewed, and made more aggressive, every five years.

The test of genuine climate action comes -- not at a 3-month check-up -- but in years of continued activism, innovation, and governance. We have to continue, and ratchet up, the initiatives that led to an agreement from Paris.

Let me name two options for short-term action, one easy, and one very challenging.

1) On the easy side, The Climate Reality Project is coordinating an initiative calling on world leaders to attend the Earth Day ceremony in New York where the Paris Agreement will be signed. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has scheduled this event to keep nations accountable and on-track. Take a few seconds to sign their petition.

2) Far more dramatically, this May a global wave of mass actions will push the demand to "break free from fossil fuels." The protests and civil disobedience be a bold call for rapid and transformational change. Six major events are planned in the United States], including a pair of actions in Colorado. (Eco-Justice Ministries is on the planning team for the Colorado actions).) Consider how you can participate in, or support, the BreakFree actions. In Colorado, for example, background support will be needed with housing, meals and transportation for those who will be taking front-line action. (Let me know if you want to be involved!)

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Three months out from the COP21 negotiations in Paris, and the important international agreement to constrain climate change, there is good news about continued action from governments, and of changing realities that are shutting down coal operations. But this check-point also has frightening news about accelerating CO2 buildups, and rapidly rising temperatures.

As one of the Paris delegates said, "History will not judge us from what we did today, but what we do from this day forward." That applies to all of us. We must all keep working, from this day forward.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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