Keep your eyes on Paris

Are you nervous? You should be. I sure am. And I’m not talking about the terrorists.

If the international conference on climate change in Paris, COP21, which is scheduled to end on Friday, Dec. 11, doesn’t result in a strong agreement to move decisively and rapidly toward eliminating the burning of fossil fuels, the consequences will dwarf whatever harm the terrorists can do.

As I write this, delegates to COP21 are pulling all-nighters to finish a document that 195 countries agree on. Some commentators believe these negotiations could “help determine the fate of the planet.”

COP stands for Conference of the Parties, referring to the countries that have signed up to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The COP in Paris is the 21st such conference.

Basically, the agreement will call on the “parties,” 195 countries, to declare what each will do to eliminate the use of fossil fuels for power, and how fast they are willing to move in that direction. It will also place responsibility on rich countries to help poor countries cope with the already inevitable consequences of global warming.

Here in the United States, the Obama administration has used its regulatory authority to put in place the Clean Power Plan, which for the first time regulates emissions from power plants. These newly imposed standards will help the U.S. live up to its COP21 commitments. Of course the climate-change deniers and pretty much all of the Republican Party, and a chunk of the Democratic Party as well, are going to resist such radical changes to our nation’s economic system.

What to do? I’ve spent a bit of time lobbying for the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, a measure that would go a long ways toward putting our state in compliance with the Clean Power Plan. I’ve written about the bill here .

I’ve met with state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, a sponsor of the Clean Jobs Bill. I’ve tagged along as a coalition led by the Sierra Club delivered 35,000 petition signatures to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Chicago office, urging him to get on board with the federal Clean Power Plan. I’ve talked to a Sierra Club lobbyist. Mostly they’ve been explaining why nothing’s happening.

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A coalition of climate activists deliver petitions collected around the state urging Gov. Bruce Rauner to get the state on board with the federal Clean Power Plan.

 

Things are moving slowly in Springfield these days, what with a partial government shutdown, as we suffer through a seventh month without a state budget.

But once the logjam is broken, the coalition behind the Illinois bill will be ready to move.

“We’ve held 50 or 60 town hall forums or round tables across the state,” said Jen Walling, of the Sierra Club. “We are going to have to have a state implementation plan,” to comply with the federal Clean Power Plan, which allows greenhouse gas emitters to design their own ways to cut back. The alternative is for the state Environmental Protection Agency to write carbon-emission rules, which nobody wants.

Feigenholtz seems cautiously optimistic.

“Like many complex things in Springfield where there are diverse interests, especially when there are federal dollars on the table, those interests will hopefully negotiate what’s good for the environment and what moves the state forward.”

She says the General Assembly’s green caucus is “growing dramatically,” and “all the greens are on the same page. The public is demanding environmentally sound policy. I’m optimistic that there will be negotiations in earnest.”

Without a COP21 agreement, the momentum for all of the good news at the state and federal levels will surely be lost, and the political will to take the difficult next steps could easily crumble.

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