Monday, April 2, 2012

I Don’t Need to Rule, But Our Leaders Do

Maggie Comstock
Associate, Policy
U.S. Green Building Council

Editor's note: We are proud to announce that our staff blogger, Maggie Comstock, is a finalist in the Rio+20 Big Blog Off! Vote for Maggie so she can win a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to blog for World Environment Day on June 5, 2012.

As any pageant queen could tell you, the winning answer to “If I ruled the world” is something BIG. If I ruled the world…I would cure cancer! …I would end all world hunger! And, of course, …there would be WORLD PEACE!

Unfortunately, I am not a beauty queen and I am far too practical for overly idealistic goals for my world domination. But if I ruled the world…there would be policies in place at both the local and national levels of government that promote the green economy and sustainable development in an economically efficient and socially appropriate way! (Though, I’m not sure if I would win the interview category with that answer.)

We have the power and the tools already at our disposal to make the 2000s a sustainable century, though time is of the essence. We need to move quickly in order to get our carbon emissions in check and to stabilize our greenhouse gas emissions below the scientifically recommended 450 parts per million (ppm) and, ideally, get them down to the 350 ppm figure supported by vulnerable geographic regions for the best chance of survival. This is completely doable through international cooperation at Rio+20 in June and the Conference of Parties climate change negotiations in Qatar in December. However, there are a few points of context needed to understand what UN delegates are up against and why action on climate change hasn’t been realized already.

The policy nerd in me could discuss climate policy for ages, but, you’re lucky, I’ll spare you. What you need to know is that the only existing international compact for greenhouse gas mitigation, the Kyoto Protocol, is insufficient for meeting our global emissions goals. First, some of the most polluting countries, including the United States, China, India, and Brazil, are not party to the Protocol and, therefore, have no obligation to reduce emissions. Second, participating countries are not legally-bound to meet their promised targets, which they often exceed without batting an eyelash. So from the get-go, the Kyoto Protocol falls short in its ability to effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The international community has had years to address these shortcomings. With the first commitment period of the Protocol due to expire in 2012, UN delegates in Durban, South Africa in December 2011 hastily extended a new commitment period for five or eight more years with no consideration for the apparent deficiencies of the existing treaty. Not to mention that Japan, Russia and Canada dropped out of the Protocol at this time. I love this line from the UNFCCC’s website on the outcomes of Durban, “The outcomes included a decision by Parties to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, and no later than 2015.” …That’s what they agreed on in 2007 in Bali, with an agreement negotiated and adopted later than 2009. *Sigh*

While Kyoto was a crucial first step in initiating global cooperation on climate change, it’s time for Kyoto 2.0.

Perhaps I spoke too soon when I said we have all of the tools at our disposal to make the 2000s a sustainable century because we’re missing one thing—political will from our leaders to take action now.

Maybe that’s the reason we could see the growth of the green economy and sustainable development during my hypothetical world domination, because I recognize the imperative to take action on climate change, to ensure the health and safety of the global population, to mitigate food shortages brought about by changing climates, and to lessen the growing civil strife and conflict which accompanies food and resource shortages. (Did I just end world hunger and solve word peace? Judges, take notice.)

Is it sad that my wildest dream is for our leaders to do their job? …To secure the well-being of their citizens and the environment on which all of our livelihoods depend?

If I ruled the world, our leaders would make legally-binding commitments in Rio and Qatar to participate in a fair, robust and universal post-2012 climate regime. The implementation of which would necessitate policies in place at both local and national levels of government that promote the green economy and sustainable development in an economically efficient and socially appropriate way.

The tipping point was yesterday. No more elapsed deadlines, no more excuses. We need to act NOW.


  1. And your next assignment is to go through your text and highlight all the places where you demand, require, or rule that other people and cultures do your bidding about being "socially responsible." Your wildest dream, unfortunately, is someone else's nightmare, and in the 20th century resulted in the deaths of over 100,000,000 people by their own governments.

    1. Dear Norma,

      I’m sorry that you misunderstood my intentions. First, this blog is an entry for a competition, of which the required prompt was “If I ruled the world: An action plan for a sustainable century.” Within these parameters, I believe that my response is appropriate and I assure you that I don’t make dictatorial plans outside of such a circumstance.

      I agree that we cannot impose rules universally. We need a suite of, as I said in the article, “socially and economically appropriate policies” which take historical responsibility to greenhouse gas emissions and ability to contribute to reductions into consideration. I’m sorry I didn’t make that more clear. This is absolutely achievable through government cooperation in the UN context. Thank you for your comment.

  2. in the United States, our leaders don't rule, they govern--though many wish they did.