In this New York Times Op-Ed, Veerabhadran Ramanathan and David G. Victor argue that delegates meeting for climate change talks in Cancún should take a few immediate, practical actions to have an effect on the climate in the coming decades.
As the curtain rises tomorrow in Cancún, Mexico, on the next round of international talks on climate change, expectations are low that the delegates will agree on a new treaty to reduce emissions that contribute to global warming. They were unable to do so last year in Copenhagen, and since then the negotiating positions of the biggest countries have grown even further apart.
Yet it is still possible to make significant progress. To give these talks their best chance for success, the delegates in Cancún should move beyond their focus on long-term efforts to stop warming and take a few immediate, practical actions that could have a tangible effect on the climate in the coming decades.
The opportunity to make progress arises from the fact that global warming is caused by two separate types of pollution. One is the long-term buildup of carbon dioxide, which can remain in the atmosphere for centuries. Diplomacy has understandably focused on this problem because, without deep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, there can be no permanent solution to warming.
The carbon dioxide problem is hard to fix, however, because it comes mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, which is so essential to modern life and commerce. It will take decades and trillions of dollars to convert all the world's fossil-fuel-based energy systems to cleaner systems like nuclear, solar and wind power. In the meantime, a fast-action plan is needed.