In December 1997, the nations of the world will gather in Kyoto, Japan to develop a treaty with binding commitments to address the threat of climate change. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of over 2,000 climate scientists from around the world charged to evaluate the data on climate change to inform the treaty negotiations, has documented a number of changes in the earth’s atmosphere that are attributed to human activity causing elevated levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses that are heating the earth’s surface.
The IPCC projects that, without action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the earth’s average temperature will rise between 2 and 6.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100. This could result in the following adverse effects:
- Illness due to heat stress and air pollution;
- Rising sea levels due to ocean heating and the melting of polar ice;
- Hunger and malnutrition due to impaired food production in many developing countries;
- Floods, droughts, and forest fires increasing due to climatic shifts; and
- Species extinction due to the disruption and migration of ecosystems.
In 1992, the nations of the world gathered at the Rio Earth Summit and agreed to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, which called for developed nations to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide to 1990 levels by the year 2000. Only Germany and England will fulfill this agreement. United States’ carbon emissions have actually increased 5.6 percent since 1990.
While many oil companies and other industries have engaged in an intensive campaign to convince the American public that the cost of reducing U.S. carbon emissions would severely hurt the U.S. economy, a group of 2,500 economists issued a statement earlier this year stating that the U.S. could prevent extensive, costly environmental damage and improve economic efficiency by taking measures to significantly reduce carbon emissions. Furthermore, cutting carbon emissions will also result in lowering emissions of several pollutants that cause illness, including particulates and ozone (for which significantly lower standards have recently been set), and that cause acid rain.
Global warming is largely attributable to the burning of fossil fuels. Industrialized nations, though only one-fifth of the world’s population, are responsible for approximately four-fifths of global carbon emissions. The U.S. has the highest per capita use of energy in the world, using twice as much energy per unit of GNP as its economic equals, such as Japan and Europe. With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. is responsible for 25 percent of the global carbon emissions.
Many developing nations, including major population centers such as China and India are rapidly expanding their use of fossil fuels. Given current trends, developing nations are expected to emit the majority of global carbon emissions around the year 2020. However, developing nations are looking to the industrialized world to demonstrate its commitment to reducing its own carbon emissions, which are dramatically higher per capita than the developing world, before making commitments to cap their own emissions.
While the world’s wealthy nations are most responsible for climate change, communities and nations which are poor, agriculturally marginal, and/or without adequate medical systems will be most severely impacted. Subsistence farmers are most vulnerable to changing rainfall patterns that may make their land infertile. Slumdwellers in coastal areas or in floodplains are least able to relocate to avoid chronic flooding. Undeveloped areas are least able to prevent the spread of infectious disease.
The actions taken by industrialized nations to reduce carbon emissions and the choices made by the developing nations regarding electricity generation and transportation in the next few years will affect the lives of generations to come. The leadership demonstrated by the United States in the coming months is critical to successful efforts to reduce industrial nation and cap developing nation emissions sufficiently to stabilize the climate.
PRINCIPLES FOR ACTION
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs believes that the following principles should serve as the foundation for the development of agreements and policies to address climate change:
Therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live.
Responsibilities to Future Generations. Humankind has a solemn obligation to improve the world for future generations. Minimizing climate change requires us to learn how to live within the ecological limits of the earth so that we will not compromise the ecological or economic security of those who come after us.
The human being was placed in the Garden of Eden to till it and to tend it.
– Genesis 2:15
Integrity of Creation. Humankind has a solemn obligation to protect the integrity of ecological systems so that their diverse constituent species, including humans, can thrive.
Equitable Distribution of Responsibility. Nations’ responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions should correlate to their contribution to the problem. The United States has built an economy highly dependent upon fossil fuel use that has affected the entire globe and must therefore reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a manner which accounts for its share of the problem.
When one loves righteousness and justice, the earth is full of the loving-kindness of the eternal
Protection of the Vulnerable. The requirements and implementations -procedures to address climate change must protect those most vulnerable to climate change: poor people, those living in coastal areas, those who rely on subsistence agriculture.
Energy independence. In recent years, the U.S. has become increasingly dependent on foreign oil supplies, with important implications for U.S. foreign policy, economic dislocation, and trade deficits. Aggressive measures to wean the U.S. economy from its reliance on fossil fuels will contribute substantially to a secure energy policy.
Strong action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is consistent with a number of longstanding public policy priorities of the JCPA, including: improving air quality, increasing mass transit, development of non-polluting alternative energy sources, energy efficiency and energy conservation.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs calls on the Clinton Administration to negotiate and the U.S. Senate to ratify- binding international agreements to minimize climate change by committing the U.S., other industrialized countries, and developing nations to reducing their current and projected emissions sufficiently to stabilize atmospheric carbon concentrations at a level that will not result in widespread human and/or ecological harm. This will require that the United States agree to close the gap between the targets set forth by President Clinton and those proposed by the European Union, resulting in industrial nation emissions below 1990 levels by the year 2010. In addition, international agreements should reflect historic and current disparities in per capita carbon emissions between industrialized and developing nations.
We urge the Congress to appropriate the funds proposed by President Clinton to fulfill our nation’s responsibility to reduce global carbon emissions: one billion dollars for aid to developing nations to control carbon emissions and five billion dollars for the development and deployment of non-carbon fuel alternatives. These appropriations are an important down-payment on what will be needed to achieve safe atmospheric carbon levels in the long run.
We urge the federal government to immediately adopt a variety of policies to accomplish such reductions, particularly programs that use pricing to lower demand for fossil fuels, encourage the development of non-polluting energy sources, and raise revenue for public projects, such as mass transit, that would lower carbon emissions. Additionally, standards relating to fossil fuel use, such as power plant emissions standards and motor vehicle fuel efficiency standards, should require the use of the most advanced fuel efficiency and emissions reduction technologies available. Such policies must be complemented with programs to help those who live in the United States whose economic security would be jeopardized by such policies, including assistance to poor people to compensate for increased expenses for electricity, fuel, and transportation and retraining and economic transition assistance for coal miners and other affected workers.
Furthermore, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs urge the Jewish community, and all other Americans, to conduct energy audits of, and institute energy efficiency technologies and practices into, private homes and communal facilities, including synagogues, schools, community centers, and commercial buildings.
Together, the people of the world can, and must, use our God-given gifts to develop innovative strategies to meet the needs of all who currently dwell on this planet without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.