The Seoul climate conferenceAround the world people are mourning the declaration by President Donald Trump that the United States will pull out of the Paris Climate Accord and recklessly charge ahead in dismantling the programs set up by the Obama administration to limit carbon emissions.
But before we all start wearing black, let us think about this matter a bit more deeply. After all, could it be that rather than assured catastrophe, we have been served up a tremendous historical opportunity to make a quantum leap in the response of the international community to climate change? Could it be that we can at last set out on a brave path toward a binding agreement for a sustainable economy in name and substance without the U.S.?
After all, the U.S. and its corporations did the most to water down the Paris Climate Accord in 2015 and to make it little more than a gentleman’s agreement (read CEO’s agreement) with no framework for how the targets will be reached and no requirements regarding which technologies or policies will be used. Addicted to oil, the U.S. sadly has played the spoiled child in most every effort to come to grips with the current ecological crisis.
What was needed in 2015 was a revolutionary move forward to a new system and the establishment of binding goals (with penalties) that would require the entire world to rapidly implement renewable energy at every level, along the lines of Lester Brown’s remarkable Plan B 4.0.
But if anything the Paris Climate Accord was a feel-good moment that did more to lull people to sleep than it did to inspire revolutionary change.
The possible exit of the U.S. under the Trump regime offers a tremendous opportunity for the world to finally make a jump forward in our civilization.
We must hold a new climate conference as soon as possible without the U.S., or any of its fossil fuel corporations, or investment banks tied up with fossil fuels, present. In fact, we should prohibit the involvement of any interests related to fossil fuels at this event.
Moreover, this climate conference should be organized primarily by those who actually understand climate change, not political figures with big corporate backing. The event should have the seriousness of purpose of the United Nations Conference of 1945 in San Francisco and should be dedicated to making a true difference in our future and not be about short-term profit.
The event should also move beyond the rather cumbersome and unwieldy “carbon trading” regime and rather form a regime that assumes that there will be penalties for air pollution and that large-scale funding will be made available for renewable energy, for insulation, for increased efficiency and, most importantly, for increased education about climate change, energy and consumption that will make sure that the crisis is understood accurately around the world.
Let us hold the climate conference in Korea, home of the Green Climate Fund and a nation that is increasingly benchmarked by developing nations as the model for success. If Korea becomes the center of a new regime to respond to climate change, building on its success in recruiting the Green Climate Fund, the conference will have influence throughout Asia and help to set a new model for development that assumes that renewables are the key to all future development.
The Moon Jae-in administration has shown a new commitment to protecting the environment and could use such a “Seoul Conference on Climate Change” to use its close economic and cultural ties with developing nations to shift the entire debate on climate change away from the rarified atmosphere of Paris, Oslo or Kyoto, and closer to the reality of the vast majority of humans living on this endangered Earth.
Moreover, Korea’s geographical proximity to China, and its ties with that critical country can be a tremendous advantage. China is increasing solar and wind power usage at a tremendous pace and has committed $360 billion through 2020 on renewable power. China will play the role of demanding even higher standards in such a global agreement than were possible at Paris. China’s model for massive, long-term financing of renewables should be at the heart of a new agreement.
We should not worry too much if the U.S. isn’t present at this Seoul Conference on Climate Change. It will be possible for individual states to join the agreement on their own. For example, California, the sixth largest economy in the world, would certainly be interested as its governor Jerry Brown has already declared that it will develop its own climate policy.
Moreover, once the U.S. starts to fall behind in solar and wind power, the major industries of the future, there will be tremendous pressure in the U.S. itself to join the Seoul Agreement on Climate Change.
In that case, however, the U.S., the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases per capita in the world, will have to conform to the established rules, and not dictate them.
*The author is an associate professor at the College of International Studies, Kyung Hee University.