Last week, there were wildfires in Australia and California, people in Florida and North Carolina were still recovering from Hurricane Dorian, the people of Australia were debating vigorously about what to do about the dying Great Barrier Reef and St. Mark’s Square in Venice was underwater. These events are happening weekly.

Next week, I will be an official observer at a global climate summit in Madrid, Spain, scheduled from Dec. 2 through 13. The 25th annual U.N. Conference of the Parties, or COP25, is meant to work out some of the remaining unresolved issues on the rules that countries must follow in order to respond to the reality of climate change and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

The reductions promised by each nation at the Conference of Parties meeting in Paris in 2015 have to be made by the start of COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland. To date, commitments made by countries under the Paris agreement are not ambitious enough to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The latest scientific information indicates that global net carbon dioxide emissions must fall to 45 percent of 2010 levels by 2030 in order to reach net zero by 2050 – the goal of the Paris agreement.

The good news is that national, state and local governments, businesses, universities and the religious community in the U.S. and around the world are urging nations to set goals that are high enough to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

One of the mechanisms that nations can use to get to net zero is buying and selling carbon emissions. Using this strategy, a nation with high greenhouse-gas emissions can purchase the right to emit greenhouse-gas emissions from a nation that has successfully reduced their emissions. But this trading process has to produce emissions reductions. COP 25 will need to develop a trading process that really works.

Another important issue is called “loss and damage.” Developing countries have to deal with the damage that the climate crisis has caused, but they can’t afford to do so. For instance, the Pacific island of Kiribati has already suffered because of sea-level rise and has purchased land on Fiji so that they have a place to live once Kiribati become uninhabitable in this century.

The controversy about loss and damage is whether the developed nations, which produced the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, should be legally responsible for the damage that the developing world is experiencing.

Providing money to the developing world to enable them to produce renewable energy and to fix those things that are broken by the climate crisis is another issue facing COP 25. The Paris agreement states that by 2020, $100 billion will be raised for various funds from developed nations, several developing nations and private sources to enable developing nations to deal with the harm caused by the climate crisis. Additional funding is still needed to reach that goal.

In many cultures, women commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change. The Gender Action Plan seeks to advance women’s full, and equal participation in responding to the climate crisis, and ensure that a gender perspective is a part of the work to implement the Paris agreement. COP 25 is set to evaluate the Gender Action Plan.

On Nov. 4, President Trump announced that the United States would cease all participation in the Paris agreement. He has said that “the Paris accord will undermine (the U.S.) economy” and would put the United States at a permanent disadvantage. The United States is able to leave the Paris agreement on Nov. 4, 2020, four years after the agreement took effect. In the United States, this happens to be one day after the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Though this matter will likely not be on the agenda of COP 25, it may be the elephant in the room. Other nations may wonder what the U.S. withdrawal might mean for the protection of their grandchildren, who will have to deal with the catastrophic results of the climate crisis.


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