Following almost 40 years of living and working in the Middle East, one thing is clear to me: matters of civil conflict and economic crises too often overshadow serious underlying climate change concerns. Without an immediate shift in priorities, climate change’s negative impacts on communities may become permanent.
Seeing how climate change has been altering our planet and putting entire countries’ economies and livelihoods at risk, I decided there was more we could all be doing to take action. Early this year, I joined the Scotia Group, an international group of diplomats, judges, lawyers, mediators, policy experts, business people and community leaders that share a desire to see rapid action to combat the clear and present threat from climate change. Our mission is to ensure that the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, (COP 26) develops effective solutions for governments to implement and doesn’t just produce another wave of empty pledges for future change.
At COP 26 in Glasgow this November, nations must focus on fulfilling commitments already made and on plans for action in the next five years. COP 26 will not be an international diplomatic success if governments don’t come together and make firm commitments to act now.
So, on Sept. 16, over 55 members of the Scotia Group — including Queen Noor Al-Hussein of Jordan, former President of Mexico Carlos Salinas, and Niall Ferguson — signed our “statement of urgency,” an open letter to the UN Secretary General, declaring immediate action be taken at COP 26 to address the diplomatic and climate emergencies we are facing.
From countries around the world, it is crucial we see alternatives constructed to the current energy system. Broadly, we need the cessation of new fossil fuel projects, a carbon price of around $100 (per ton of carbon dioxide) and ultimately, a halving of emissions by 2030.
Specifically, we have called upon China and the USA, the world’s largest carbon emitters, to act together and lead resolutely by example in agreeing to a phased program to either close their existing coal-fired power plants or retrofit them with carbon capture technology — a step China has begun to take by announcing its cessation of overseas coal-fired plant funding.
However, in the absence of a binding international agreement to enforce such policies and reduce emissions, citizens are of necessity the enforcers of last resort of these promises. So, in addition to implementing innovative policies, countries should agree to adopt laws that empower citizens to enforce national environmental commitments through domestic courts.
Governments must recognize the need for such enforcement mechanisms because the longer environmental issues are left on the back burner, the more likely it is that there will be no way back — no way for communities to recover from the damage climate change has been causing. The time for action is now.
Ambassador John B. Craig is a senior fellow at the Transatlantic Leadership Network in Washington D.C., former Special Assistant to the President for Combatting Terrorism under Bush 43, and former United States Ambassador to Oman.