This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
I’m going to guess you’ve heard of the People’s Climate March by now. It’s been all over Facebook, the blogosphere, buses and subway cars—it’s even shown up on network news, which has been something of a black hole for climate activism.
But in case you’re just getting back from vacation (or a cave), here’s the deal: on Sunday, September 21, tens of thousands of people are expected to flood the streets of New York City to call on global leaders to take action on climate change.
What’s been somewhat forgotten in the truly herculean effort to make this the biggest climate mobilization ever is what global leaders are doing in town in the first place.
The truth is, they’ve been called to New York by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to meet in an unofficial capacity, because formal negotiations for a global treaty to stabilize the climate aren’t going so well.
In fact, little more than a year out from the December 2015 deadline for signing a deal, countries can’t even agree on a fundamental approach to curbing heat-trapping greenhouse emissions.
One option is a binding treaty that mandates a clear target for reducing overall emissions and assigns each country a fair share of the work. The second option is a nonbinding “pledge and review” process by which each nation records what pollution cuts it thinks it can make. According to this plan, we’d add up those pledges, hope they’re enough to avoid climate chaos, and come back in a few years to see how governments have done.
The United States is the primary proponent of the latter option, for the record.
But emissions cuts are not the only hang-up.
If there’s frighteningly little political will to take common-sense action in the face of devastating ecological disruption—i.e., to stop burning fossil fuels and put clean renewable energy in place as fast as possible—there is even less appetite to pay for it.
At the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009, industrialized countries promised to create a Green Climate Fund to channel money to poorer countries to support their shift to clean energy and climate-resilient development. Since the global North made much of its wealth polluting the planet, it seemed only fair that it would pick up part of the tab to help the South grapple with the result.