Center for Energy and Environmental Policy, 278 Graham Hall, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716
Global climate change represents the major environmental challenge of the modern era. An imposing body of scientific evidence links climate change to anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (IPCC 2007; The Royal Society 2005; AMS 2003; NRC 2001). Carbon dioxide (CO2) contributes more than three quarters of GHG emissions from human activity. In turn, more than 95% of global CO2 emissions are due to fossil fuel burning and land use change (WRI 2006). Historical data show that carbon concentrations have increased 35% from pre-industrial levels of 280 parts per million (ppm), to reach the current 380 ppm (CDIAC 2006). This change in atmospheric chemistry coincides with a temperature increase of 0.6 ± 0.2°C in the twentieth century (IPCC 2007, 2001).
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that, due to cumulative GHG emissions from human activity (especially over the past century), average global temperatures are likely to increase between 2 and 4.5°C by the year 2100 compared to 1990 (IPCC 2007; 2001), unless major efforts are made quickly to reduce them. Such temperature increases correspond to carbon concentration levels of 541 to 963 ppm, respectively.1 Warming at the high end of this range could have widespread catastrophic consequences (Schneider and Lane, 2006). The widely proposed protective threshold is carbon concentrations of no more than 450 ppm (Oppenheimer and Petsonk, 2005; Hansen, 2004; Parry et al. 2001).
With the international scientific community - led by the IPCC - largely in agreement regarding the role of anthropogenic behaviour in forcing a new climate, calls for immediate and sizeable policy action to arrest the problem are mounting. Recently, the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, prepared for the Office of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom, has announced the need for cuts of 80% or more in anthropocentric emissions involving all nations (Stern 2006) . In June 2005, the national science academies of the G8 nations2 (including the US) and those
1 These values are mid-points for IPCC scenarios, and reported ranges for concentration and temperature are higher (1.4 to 5.8 °C for temperature and 490 to 1260 ppm for CO2 concentration).
2 The G8 nations include the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Germany, the US, Japan, Italy, and Canada.
of India, Brazil and China released a joint statement citing the urgency for significant and immediate responses to the emerging climate crisis (The Royal Society 2005). These proposals share a common perspective: namely, the need now for global policy innovation in changing the direction of present development paths which are wedded to conventional energy systems.
The political challenge of responding to climate change is daunting. Liberal democracies have shown particular difficulty in abandoning their commitment to a cornucopian politics of ceaseless economic growth in order to launch the transformative social changes needed to avert a significantly warmer world (Byrne and Yun 1999). The problem is especially evident in the case of the US, whose national government has refused to accept even modest reductions in its GHG emissions.
This chapter explores the politics of transformation needed to end the dangerous experiment in climate change now under way due to the failure of industrialized societies to limit their GHG footprint. First, international political negotiations are analysed and the need for an explicit commitment to carbon equity is shown as essential to the realization of climate sustainability. The Gini coefficient, a traditional economic measure of income distribution equity, is employed to explore how unequal carbon distributions - now and in the future - can prevent the achievement of climate mitigation, even if many nations act responsibly and ambitiously to alter their present energy pathways.
The chapter then examines political strategy in the face of US national governmental intransigence. Through an inventory of American civil society initiatives, a case is built for understanding the grassroots revolt under way in the US to challenge its national political posture. An alliance with this locality-focused revolt is recommended strategically as a means to undermine the American national government's support for climate inaction. But it is further recommended on the ground that eventually the politics of climate action must extend beyond the rhetorical level, where nations establish and enforce GHG reduction targets, to the level of practice, wherein social transformation is actually undertaken. An era of sustainability and equity in practice is ultimately the province of civil society and, specifically, its urban industrial communities in this instance because of their dominant role in GHG emissions. Urban action and innovation is essential if climate sustain-ability and carbon equity (defined below) are to be realized.3
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