Carbon pollution from fossil fuel use reached the highest level yet in 2010, according to the International Energy Agency.  So should we throw up our hands?  No, this is a wake-up call that countries need to significantly speed up the pace of their action to reduce emissions.  And when they come to the Earth Summit in Rio next June – just one short year from now – they have a chance to do just that.  They better come prepared to implement new actions at home on climate and energy at the Earth Summit – held from June 4-6 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  As NRDC’s President put it:

“When it comes to the protection of our planetary home, failure is not an option.  We have no choice but to try to assure that the Earth Summit next year is truly historic and transformative and puts us on a road to a low carbon, greener and brighter future.”  

In preparation for this “race to Rio”, NRDC is launching a detailed set of actions that countries, companies, and citizens can commit to implement at the Earth Summit (more details here).  These are actions that will help protect the planet from the dangers of global warming, save citizens money, create jobs, and reduce pollution.  They aren’t new ideas, nor are they innovative.  They are steps that some governments around the world are beginning to implement.  And they are steps that can be taken now. 

So what we need at the Earth Summit next year is for more countries and companies to come to Rio and commit to implement these specific steps.  And for countries that have already committed to these actions, we need clear commitments for how quickly they will be implemented.  As the recent carbon pollution figures show us, we can’t wait until 2020 for countries to take action.  We need implementation now in order to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.  

While the climate negotiations will continue, governments, companies, and civil society groups should come to the Earth Summit prepared to take tangible steps towards greater deployment of low-carbon energy technologies, improved energy and water efficiency, reduced deforestation emissions, reduced black carbon emissions, and the stimulation of low-carbon economies by implementing these critical steps:

  1. Actively phase out fuel subsidies, following the binding commitments already made by G-20 countries
  2. Develop and enforce best practice and minimum performance energy and water standards for appliances and equipment and ensure an ongoing process to develop all cost effective standards by 2015
  3. Phase out inefficient light bulbs through the establishment of minimum energy efficiency standards that reduce energy use of new bulbs by at least 65%
  4. Deploy renewable energy by countries undertaking specific commitments and programs to speed up the deployment of clean energy throughout the world
  5. Promote clean and efficient vehicles that will cut greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles by 30% by 2020 and by 50% by 2030, including policies, programs and standards adopted by individual countries that address sales and use of new, and where appropriate, imported and/or used vehicles
  6. Stimulate a market for clean cook stoves and invest in the efficient production of biomass fuels, with the goal of having clean and efficient stoves in 100 million homes by 2020 and thereby minimizing incidence of respiratory illnesses; deforestation; and destruction of local habitats
  7. Replace polluting, inefficient, expensive, dangerous and unhealthy kerosene-based lighting with cleaner alternatives, such as solar lanterns.
  8. Phase down HFCs by governments adopting new commitments covering these super greenhouse gases under the Montreal Protocol  and by companies agreeing to phase down their use in products that they produce, use, or sell
  9. Reduce deforestation emissions by key corporations committing to avoiding purchasing products that cause deforestation, such as soy or cattle from deforested lands in the Brazilian Amazon, palm oil from deforested agricultural land in Indonesia, or illegal wood and wood products throughout the world
  10. Undertake large-scale, environmentally and socially responsible reforestation efforts
  11. Strengthen and increase the use of green building technologies and standards by working with the new GLOBE Alliance
  12. Phase out lending by public and private financial institutions for energy projects with high GHG emissions
  13. Create and enforce standards to reduce environmental risks associated with natural gas development, including the use of “fracking” to access natural gas
  14. Commit to systematically evaluating, and where cost-effective, applying ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation (e.g., rehabilitating mangroves may be more cost-effective against storm surge than building a sea wall).

These steps by themselves aren’t sufficient to address global warming, but by taking these steps countries will show that they are serious in their commitments to address global warming and deploy clean energy.  After all, these are very reasonable and effective steps.

So while Rio is a beautiful city to visit, world leaders and the CEOs of major companies should only attend if they are prepared to implement these steps in their country and their products.  Otherwise they should stay home and explain to their citizens and consumers why they won’t implement these very reasonable actions to protect their children and grandchildren’s future.

Nothing short of this is sufficient for world leaders as they come to the next Earth Summit in 2012.