The Forming Coalition

During an interview with Seth Meyers, Republican Presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina explained that while she considers climate change to be real, she doesn’t believe that the U.S. should be implementing environmental regulations to stop it. Naming China as an example of a nation that is doing nothing to reduce its share of emissions, she stated that it is obvious that no single nation alone can make a difference and that other nations seem disinterested in fighting climate change.

Over the past year, however, a surge in international concern over the environment proves Mrs. Fiorina incorrect. In the past few days alone, Brazil, India, and Indonesia have all released ambitious plans to reduce emissions by 2030 by 43%, 35%, and 29% respectively.What’s more, the United States and China, the world’s largest polluters, agreed to a landmark carbon emissions agreement last fall.  The terms of the agreement specified that the U.S. would agree to cut its emissions between 26% and 28% by 2025, and in exchange China would act to cap its emissions by 2030 and increase its reliance on renewable energy sources by 20%. All of these actions highlight a recent trend: developing countries have begun to voluntarily commit themselves to the fight against global warming.

Developing nations have traditionally been opposed to fighting climate change because they have felt as if the burden falls on them disproportionately.  Leaders from these countries generally argue that developed countries have reaped the benefits of unbridled industrialization in the past without having to cut their emissions, while developing countries have been pressured to limit their economic growth in order to address an issue that was created by rich countries. To the leaders of China and India, the fight against climate change should fall on the shoulders of the United States and Europe.

Despite the historical reluctance of developing nations to combat climate change, more and more of the world’s poor countries continue to make pledges to do so. In addition to Brazil, India, and Indonesia, nations both both poor and rich, including South Africa, Gabon, Japan, the European Union, and South Korea have all pledged to cap or cut their emissions by 2025 or 2030. Even war-torn Nigeria has announced that it intends to act as a strong supporter of environmental regulations to fight climate change.

Some have claimed that many of these pledges are inadequate to combat such a massive global crisis, which is a valid criticism in some cases. For instance, Japan’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by 2030 may initially seem to be impressive, but experts have explained that Japan would not have to make any policy changes to reach this goal, as it is already set to meet this objective with its current policies. Russia has also been reluctant to embrace more ambitious environmental plans; while the Russian government has pledged to cut emissions down to 25% below emission levels from 1990, this apparently ambitious goal is highly misleading as 1990 was a year of incredibly high emissions in Russia and emissions have declined since with no environmental policy changes. Vladimir Chuprov, the head of Greenpeace’s energy program, has declared Russia’s pledge “a tragedy” and “a catastrophe.”

Despite these examples, the disappointing pledges made by some nations do not diminish the fact that the world as a whole is accepting more responsibility for humanity’s role in creating climate change. The debate has now shifted from deciding whether or not to cut emissions at all to deciding the extent to which each country should assist in this global endeavor. Hopes are high for the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris beginning on November 30th. Many environmental activists are hoping for even more expansive pledges to cut emissions from the attending nations, and many speculate that a consensus concerning humanity’s response to this global crisis seems to be on the horizon.

With all of this in mind, the statements by Carly Fiorina and others seem highly irresponsible. The United States, whether some of us like it or not, is part of a broader coalition of nations that have committed to fighting climate change, and it is imperative that we continue to do so. While it should be noted that Carly Fiorina is one of the few Republicans in the presidential race to admit the existence of climate change, she is still very backwards on her response to the issue. Simply acknowledging the existence of this problem is no longer enough. If we want to see other nations commit to the fight against climate change, we have to lead by example.

Benjamin Zuegel