“It would be interesting to see the Pentagon come out and join that discussion,” Ash said. “They have stated publicly that climate change is a huge national security problem. I think them helping to educate the public on climate policy would be very helpful. It could change things on a dime.”
The Pentagon did exactly that on Monday, releasing its that for the first time included an assessment of climate change’s effects on national security. According to the review, “while climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.”
Look Beyond CO2
Cross, of the , shared the view that changing the educational and campaign messages could lead to better international response to climate change. He suggested an increased focus on shorter term emissions problems than carbon dioxide, such as , and on methane, which can also play a big role in global temperature changes.
Black carbon is essentially soot sent into the atmosphere by natural forest fires, the steel and brick-making industries, diesel fuel emissions and stoves used for cooking in the developing world. Although not a greenhouse gas (the fine particles of black carbon spend only about two weeks in the atmosphere, compared with 12 years for methane and up to hundreds of years for CO2), it offers an intriguing target to slow warming in the coming years, Cross said, and may not carry the same degree of political weight seen with carbon dioxide negotiations.
“It is not as directly tied into economic growth as CO2 is,” Cross said.
China and India, however, are reluctant to let black carbon into the international negotiations, as it might appear to shift the blame from the centuries of carbon dioxide emissions by the developed world to a shorter term problem in the developing countries. Turning the focus toward black carbon, though, could at least slow the short-term warming likely to be seen in the next 20 to 30 years.
Influence of industry
With the international negotiations process struggling, increased scrutiny on the industry and business side of climate change could also swing opinions. Last week, the SEC issued a guideline requiring publicly traded companies to report business risks and opportunities related to climate change.
Jim Coburn, a senior manager at environmental investment NGO , said that while national and international agreements can obviously change the way industry and business is conducted, the opposite could also be true.
“I think the biggest influence on the political discourse nationally is what companies are asking for, what they’re asking Congress for and what they’re willing to support,” he said. “On the national front it’s very important, because it affects how some members of Congress view climate change legislation, and how it will affect industry and jobs.”
Some groups still think the targets set out by the Copenhagen signatories represent a great first step.
“What is it that the international agreement is supposed to ultimately do?”
asked Jake Schmidt, the international climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Produce a 20-page legal text that tells everybody what they should do, or create the framework that encourages countries to do actions at home? I would rather have the latter than a treaty that has nobody actually doing anything. A treaty without actions is a meaningless effort.”