Resolutions: How to Make and Keep One

In Uncategorized on February 7, 2010 at 4:14 am

Yes, I know it’s been almost 30 days since 2010 began. But it’s never too late to start, or keep up a resolution 🙂

Saying good things and doing good deeds are two different things. And you need to look no farther than the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference to see how.

As this year dawns, our generation is faced with a million and one resolutions. The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (COP15),

with which we ended least year, was one of the first, followed by everything from Haiti to the elections in Kiev, and many more important events to come. Yet, I feel like the international community, somewhat like a high-schools senior wishing to run away from work, has been running away from making the tough decisions. An example of this is Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s statement after the COP15 conference:

I am satisfied. We have achieved a result. Now nations will need to sign on, and if they do so, they will support what has been agreed (in the Copenhagen Accord). This will have effect immediately.

This sentiment is reflected around the world today. While eternal optimism is one thing, convincing oneself that progress is being made when it is not is an entirely different issue. The latter is often one that can lead to bad decisions, mismanagement, and eventually nothing.

To see how Copenhagen relates to this, let’s take a look at the history of these climate change conferences. It began with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, established “over a decade ago” as a means of pulling together developed and developing UN countries and setting standards for emissions reductions. Their first major agreement was the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement signed and ratified by 187 countries. The Kyoto Protocol, signed on 11 December 1997,  provides fora 5% reduction in 1990 emissions levels in 2008-2012, and helps targets reach this goal by three market mechanisms:

  • Emissions trading: somewhat of a lending system for emission quotas. Since Kyoto allows countries to have “accepted amounts” of emissions, whichever countries have leftover “accepted amounts” are allowed to sell it to other countries. This implies the creation of a “carbon market”
  • Clean Development Mechanism: this agreement allows countries with carbon-reduction agreements to implement reduction plans in other countries which can count towards their reduction quota as well.
  • Joint Trading: Two countries with emission reduction quotas can work with each other in joint projects to reach their targets.

The Protocol also places “a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’, since they are the greatest contributors to climate change and pollution. But here is the anomaly. The United States, while having signed the Kyoto Protocol treaty, has not yet ratified it, meaning that it is not legally bound to the Protocol’s standards, and will not face any repercussions if it doesn’t meet Kyoto standards.

While all these are overall noble goals, they are still goals. And while many countries, remarkably the European Union, is working to turn these goals into reality, it is not easily done. The goal is especially undermined when the United States, one of the world’s greatest polluters, has not ratified the resolution. The United States, consuming about four times the average country’s energy, and releasing almost similar amounts, has a heavy price to pay for this. It is fairly obvious that the US has taken little measures to adhere to rules it never signed on to. The statistics speak for themselves. According to the World Resources Institutute, in 2003, gasoline consumption per capita in North America was 1,593.1 litres per person, whereas in developing countries it was 59.2 litres per person. According to Co Op America, industrialized nations, representing only 20% of the world’s population, consume 87 percent of the world’s printing and writing papers and global production in the pulp, paper and publishing sector is expected to increase by 77% from 1995 to 2020. Sierra Club reports that the average American buys 53 times as many products as someone in China and one American’s consumption of resources is equal valent to that of 35 Indians.

Clearly, we aren’t anywhere close to meeting our grudgingly-acceded-to goals.

A simplified analogy of all this would be a student who wastes her entire day setting up her table and cleaning up her room in order to work, and by the time she is ready to work, it’s 11 pm already. I say this because I am her: an endless procrastinator, and a To-do list sorta gal. Problem is, my to- do list always remains a to-do list, it never turns to a “done” list. I am trying to fix this problem, and so should the US, and the rest of the world in conjunction. Having committee and subcommitee, program and sub-initiative is no good if they are not all working towards a larger, greater goal.

This is why, to a certain degree, Copenhagen annoyed me. The UNFCCC fact sheet reported:

Copenhagen needs to put in place the framework that will enable the world to make the transition to climate-resilient, green global growth. To achieve this, governments in Copenhagen need to sign up to a new level of cooperation, followed by immediate actions in 2010.

Now, exactly what is that but UN jargon for “We need to work together, and we need to do it now,”?

The final result of the conference was the following Copenhagen Accord, according to Secretary of the UNFCCC Yvo de Boer :

1) It raised climate change to the highest level of government;
2) The Copenhagen Accord reflects a political consensus on the long-term, global response to climate change;
3) The negotiations brought an almost full set of decisions to implement rapid climate action near to completion

In the midst of the economic recession, I doubt any country will make climate change a top priority. And the political consensus was “We should work together.” That’s it. Does a pledge to work together on something really take an entire fortnight of round-table negotiations and dinners? Because I can still say “Wanna work together” in school all the time, and all it takes is a simple offer.

… and as a student, I know that when someone says something “almost full” is “near completion”, almost nothing has been done yet.

Now, I don’t pretend to know the inner workings of the UNFCCC, or the Kyoto Protocol, or anything I have talked about in this blog entry so far. I still have the curtain of high school to hide behind, and “incomplete research” as an excuse for any misinformation. But if this really is all that has been done to tackle an issue that has such serious implications for us all, heaven help us is all I have to say. We all seem to mistake promises for actions, even from something as simple as setting up this blog to conducting national, even international policy. Saying that you will do something, no matter how amazing, awe-inspiring and collaborative a decision, is still only promise, not action. Now stop cleaning up your room, and actually start the hard part–getting the work done!

So, here’s my resolution for this year. This blog, while it may be a late startup, will NOT be the next Copenhagen. While I have no clear idea of what it will become in the future, right now it is a commitment, a promise, and a call to action. I hope one day I can gather all my reflections on all these topics and take action on each and every one of them.

  1. […] rewards vs. penalties: in my previous post, I discussed the carbon market, and how this affects current projects to reduce emissions. The […]

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