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Rob Horowitz: Climate Change On the Table… Finally!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


A leaked draft of a major report expected to be released in the Fall by the International Panel on Climate Change(IPCC), an international group of scientists under the auspices of the United Nations, landed on the front page of The New York Times last week. The report, a comprehensive and consensus analysis of the latest scientific research on climate change, finds that if greenhouse gas emissions continue apace a sea level rise of as much as 100 feet by the end of the century is a real possibility. It characterizes the assertion that human activity is the cause of most of global warming as a “near certainty.”

As the report states, “It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010,” the draft report says. “There is high confidence that this has warmed the ocean, melted snow and ice, raised global mean sea level and changed some climate extremes in the second half of the 20th century,”

This report adds to the mounting pile of peer-reviewed scientific evidence confirming the role of greenhouse gases in spurring climate change and highlighting the potentially catastrophic consequences of not taking action. This hardening, broad and nearly universal consensus in the scientific community, along with the step-up in extreme weather events, is having a significant impact on public opinion internationally and here at home as recent surveys confirm movement towards support for robust action on climate change

These favorable developments set the table for the real possibility of reaching a new international agreement with teeth in it when the extended terms of the Kyoto Protocol expire in 2015 and the nations of the world meet together at a climate change conference to be held in Paris for the express purpose of negotiating a new protocol.

This is especially the case when one considers that the United States, which must play a leading role if real and consequential agreements are going to be reached, has recently gained international credibility on this issue through the tough executive actions announced by President Obama earlier this summer. These include using the authority the President has under the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon emissions at existing power plants, the single largest source of greenhouse gases now responsible for 40% of the total United States emissions. Taken together, the components of the Obama plan will now enable the United States to achieve the 17% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 it had pledged to accomplish

In addition, the well-documented pollution problems facing China, now the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases, are creating a strong domestic demand for action in that critical country.

As climate negotiators devise strategies to bring about the best way forward in this improved political climate, they should consult a recent study of attitudes about international climate change agreements conducted by Ken Scheve of Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and Michael Bechtel of the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland in which survey experiments were performed on 8,500 people in the U.S., France, Germany and the United Kingdom. “One of the things that we found exciting about our results was that despite the sensitivity of support to costs across all four countries, treaty designers can enhance the political support for climate agreements by adopting features that are perceived to make agreements both more effective and more fair,” Scheve said. These include, according to the study authors, the sense that most nations are dong their fair share and that there are enforceable penalties for not meeting the goals.

And the stakes are high. As the stark realities outlined in the draft report show, the nations of the world must act now, before it is too late.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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