Last week I attended the SXSWeco conference in Austin and had the enormous pleasure of meeting, Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist whose mission is to connect people over solutions to climate change, one of the most polarizing issues in our country. There is no one more articulate at explaining why we all share the values needed to solve climate change. Oh, and she’s also an Evangelical Christian, which puts her in a very lonely place on the Venn diagram of the United States.
Katharine is such a breath of fresh air during a tough season. From a Presidential election with too much talk about groping to more bombs in the Middle East and the horror of Hurricane Matthew, it’s been a cacophony of bad news lately.
But just when it has all seemed too much, there, in the usually gloomy recesses of climate change news, Katharine pointed out that some truly wonderful stories have emerged. Though they’ve barely made a whimper, what with all the headlines screaming about scandals–and talk of the climate was largely excluded from the Presidential campaign–these stories deserve shouts of hope about our future.
Reason for Hope Number 1. The Paris Climate Change Agreement entered into force.
Last year, 197 countries representing most of the world, met in Paris to pen an ambitious agreement to limit carbon pollution and avert the most drastic effects of climate change.
According to the rules, the Agreement would come into force when more than 55 countries representing more than 55 percent of the world’s emitters signed on. That happened on October 4.
Today, seventy-six countries have ratified the Agreement including countries as small and resource-poor as Nauru and the Marshall Islands and as large and industrial as the United States and China.
To sign on, a country had to submit a plan for managing its carbon emissions. Now that the agreement is ratified, the countries are obligated to take the actions in those plans. According to the UNFCCC, “A key feature of the Agreement is that these plans can be strengthened at any time but not weakened.”
The speed of the ratification came as a bit of a surprise—and there is speculation that the U.S. Presidential election contributed to the urgency. Regardless, the ratification is a strong signal of just how important the global effort to fight climate change is.
And what’s more, it’s begun to motivate changes in other places. Like Canada.
Reason for Hope Number 2. The entire country of Canada adopted a carbon policy.
In order to meet its targets for the Paris Agreement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the entire nation will adopt a fee on carbon emissions beginning in 2018. The details are left up to each province, but the cost for polluting carbon will start at C$10 per ton, and increase to C$50 by 2022.
Not every province is pleased. Oil producers Saskatchewan and Alberta felt that the decision was made without their input. But several provinces including Quebec, Alberta, Ontario, and British Columbia already have carbon policies in place or plans to implement them.
As we in the U.S. wallow in the mire of our politics, we can look to the north as a beacon of carbon-freedom. And, when we fly across the border, we don’t have to worry about our carbon footprint either because the airlines understand what’s at stake.
Reason for Hope Number 3. International airlines decided to regulate their own carbon emissions.
When the Climate Agreement was drawn up last year, international flights were left out. That was a sizable hole for an industry that contributes up to 4 percent to global warming though a combination of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and contrails.
But even without being required to, the airline industry decided to comply with the Agreement. Their regulating body, ICAO, proposed a carbon offset framework, and 65 countries lined up to get on board.
This seems like strange behavior for executives usually worried about their bottom lines—and the agreement is going to cost the airlines about 1.4 percent of their revenues a year.
But the President of ICAO explained that rather than wait for a complex patchwork of regulation from individual countries, the airlines realized that a simple single mechanism to curb emissions will be less costly in the long run.
And that’s not the last of the cool news.
Reason for Hope Number 4. The world agreed to take major heat-holding chemicals out of the atmosphere.
Over the weekend in Rwanda, a country made famous by war atrocities, hope arrived in the form of 170 countries agreeing to keep our planet’s temperature down. They passed a legally binding accord to limit chemicals called HFCs, which are among the most a potent greenhouse gases we put into the atmosphere.
When ozone-hole-creating CFCs were banned from refrigerators and air conditioners in the 1980’s, their replacement was HFCs. These chemicals don’t impact the ozone layer but they do hold a thousand times more heat than carbon dioxide.
Secretary John Kerry, who was at the meetings in Rwanda, said that limiting HFCs is, “the biggest thing we could do in one giant swoop.”
If there was ever a moment when the world was hungering for news of political will, industrial ethics, and international cooperation, this is it. That those stories come are about protecting our planet from the devastation of climate change is nothing short of straight-up hopeful.