We Must Stop Climate Change and We Can Do it in Cancun

Venezuela’s lead negotiator on climate change writes that protecting the earth's climate is quite achievable if there is the political will to do so.

As Venezuela’s lead negotiator on climate change, I recently participated in a preparatory round of negotiations in China leading up to the global summit in December in Cancun, Mexico. This summit will take up where the 2009 Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change left off.

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Much has been said in the media about the meeting, and one thing is certainly true – there is plenty of frustration and uncertainty about the possibility of achieving an agreement on climate change by year’s end. But this does not mean it is impossible.

In fact, it is quite achievable if there is the political will to do so. Developed countries need only to commit to fulfilling their existing first period reduction obligations established by the Kyoto Protocol and pledge to substantially reduce and reabsorb their domestic greenhouse gas emissions in accordance to a second commitment period to be established in Cancun.

According to almost all scientific studies, we know that entire nation states like Tuvalu are destined to literally sink into the sea as a result of global warming. In South America, mountain tops where snow used to fall and glaciers form have gone barren. Even U.S. governmental agencies report that this past decade is the warmest one ever experienced by mankind.

We are approaching a critical time in human history, one where we can either move forward to reverse the effects of climate change or continue down a path that will soon become irreversible and destroy our planet. If global warming increases by more than two degrees Celsius in coming years, as will surely happen if no reasonable and fair agreement is reached quickly, there is a 50 percent chance that the damage caused will be irreversible.

Unlike what many suggest, China is not the problem. China, along with India and others, have made considerable commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are already working to realize them. Other developing countries have done the same, although we only generate a virtual drop in the bucket of global carbon emissions. The key player missing here is the U.S.

I had the great opportunity this week to spend time with U.S.-based environmentalists, climate experts and policy makers while speaking at the Green Festival in Washington, D.C. and participating in a panel discussion at Boston College. It seems clear to me that the American people do not want a repeat of the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, where a proposal made by a small number of powerful countries would have allowed for a disastrous 3-4 degree rise in temperature over the next 30 years. (Fortunately, Venezuela and some other countries opposed this proposal).

The American people want progress and they want action – and they want it this year. “How many climate catastrophes are acceptable before we act?” I asked during my

talk. One responded, “Hurricane Katrina was already too much. We are still suffering from that.”

In the world of global negotiations, I can tell you, one more round of talks without real commitments will also be one beyond what our planet can afford. While it is absurd for us to believe that all the nations of the world will agree on everything, we must act on what we already agreed on in 1992 at the Framework Convention: developed countries’ greenhouse gas emissions must be significantly reduced. As President Obama said last year in Copenhagen, “It’s better for us to choose action over inaction.”

I truly hope the U.S. will act upon this sentiment in Cancun and join the rest of the world in fully committing to aggressive action to stop climate change. For the sake of humanity and our planet, nothing less will do.

Claudia Salerno is Venezuela's Presidential Envoy for Climate Change.