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Climate Change

Climate Change is a real and urgent challenge, and its harmful effects such as rising global temperatures, more extreme weather and rising sea level are already being felt around the world. Caused primarily by human activity, climate change compounds preexisting social stresses like disease, hunger, conflict and poverty and poses a serious danger to ecosystems, society as a whole and the ultimate habitability of our planet. Stopping the destruction of climate change requires immediate action at an international level, but without leadership from developed nations like the US, progress is unlikely.

Our work on climate change is led by our student Climate Change Campaign Team. Find out more about their priorities for 2011-12 below.

Why we should care:
Climate change may be the most important challenge facing today’s generation, and the gravest injustice behind a failure to act is that those who had no hand in causing the climate crisis feel its destruction the most. As one of the main culprits behind crisis—as well as the most powerful nation in the world—it is the responsibility of the US to lead the way in investing in the technology needed to adapt to those changes that are already occurring and alter our patterns of behavior to prevent them from becoming even more damaging in the future. However, such leadership has faltered in the face of sensationalism, rhetoric of climate skepticism, the financial influence of the harmful energy industry and the irrational fear that participation in international climate commitments will impinge upon American sovereignty.

However, when it comes to tackling climate change, today’s young people know there’s not a second to waste. All around the world, young people are rising up to tell our leaders that we won’t stand for any more empty promises, failed agreements or injustice. From our college campuses and city halls to COP conferences worldwide, our voices are being heard, and we’re seeing great progress, especially at the local levels. But, critical battles still need to be won in order to achieve climate adaptation and emissions mitigation on the global scale, and today the youth voice is needed more than ever.

How is climate change being addressed?
The climate crisis is real problem, but it has real solutions. In general, there are three pillars of a comprehensive strategy to fight climate change: mitigation, adaptation and finance. Mitigation refers to reducing current and future greenhouse gas emissions to prevent further warming (in general, it is agreed that emissions targets should be set so that the earth does not warm more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels). Adaptation consists of implementing coping mechanisms to adjust to the effects of climate change that are already occurring and that are guaranteed to occur in the future. This is especially essential for developing nations. Finally, finance involves coming up with new, robust funds to pay for the technological innovation and economic shifts that adaptation and mitigation require. However, adopting such a strategy at a global scale has required a level of national and international cooperation that thus far has been difficult to achieve at even a basic level.

International Level:

  • The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): In 1992, most of the world’s nations joined the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international treaty acknowledging that climate change exists, is primarily man-made, and is a global problem requiring international intervention. The Convention provides an intergovernmental forum for its 190 participating nations to share information and come together to launch national and international strategies for mitigating emissions and adapting to expected impacts (including the provision of financial and technological support to developing countries). However, over the years, the UNFCCC has failed to deliver concrete, effective and just international action.
  • COP17: The most recent meeting of the UNFCCC took place in December 2011 in Durban, South Africa. COP17 was a critical moment for international cooperation on climate change, especially due to its location. Deliberation ran the gamut from financing climate adaptation in poor countries, to new legal accords for reducing emissions. COP17’s outcome, known as the ‘Durban Platform’, is the critical next forward in the fight against climate change.
  • The Durban Platform: The main outcome of COP17, the Durban Platform is a landmark decision calling all nations–both developed and developing–to negotiate a new accord to cut carbon emissions by 2015, with enforcement beginning by 2020. Nations still adhering to the Kyoto Protocol agreed to enter a second phase of emission-reduction commitments until the new accord is ratified and implemented. The Green Climate Fund, aimed at financing climate adaptation initiatives in poor developing countries, finally launched, though it’s funding mechanism remains unclear. More details here.
  • Kyoto Protocol: The Kyoto Protocol was first adopted in 1997 by 37 industrialized nations. During the first commitment period, countries who signed and ratified the Protocol were bound to an average GHG emissions reduction of 5.2% from 1990 levels by 2012. The Protocol mandates such reductions be accomplished primarily through national measures but also provides supplemental “flexible” mechanisms, such as emissions-reduction projects in developing nations and emissions trading on a carbon market. Part of COP17’s outcome included an interim extension of the Kyoto Protocol, creating a second comittment period. However, Canada announced its withdrawal from the treaty.

National Level

  • Advancing ambitious national climate/energy laws in the US would not only help to reduce harmful emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change now, in the absence of an international agreement, but also helps to advance national positions, giving leaders the confidence to go further in formal UN negotiations. Domestically, switching to clean energy as a legislative policy would be a huge step forward in reducing the impact of humans on the environment. However, Congress has yet to pass anything of that nature, instead producing legislative defeats like with the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES, known commonly as the carbon-cap-and-trade bill), which passed in the House but never made it to a vote in the Senate.

Take action:
This year, AIDemocracy’s Climate Team is teaming up with ActionAid’s global Activista network to campaign around climate change. Together, we will be providing opportunities for you to take informed action around crucial moments including:

  • COP17: We called on the US delegation to commit to helping poor countries adapt to the impacts of climate change, express targets for reducing US emissions, and support the Green Climate Fund.
  • Biofuels: We are examining the impacts of biofuels and US subsidies of fossil fuels. Stay informed to hear about our upcoming actions!

Get involved! Join the conversation on our blog. Host an event or run a campaign on your campus. Speak to your decision-makers. Find our more on our Take Action! page. We accept applications for our Climate Change Campaign Team on an ongoing basis. Find out more on our Opportunities page.