When Barack Obama told Rolling Stone last month that “I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we're going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way,” the environmental community breathed a sigh of relief. The president hadn’t completely abandoned the fight against climate change. He may make no mention of the problem in his campaign materials. He may avoid any references to it in his Earth Day proclamation. But at least he hasn’t forgotten it exists.
While that alone is big news in the United States, other nations' governments are tackling climate change head on. South Korea’s parliament recently approved a bill to create a cap-and-trade scheme. Last month, Mexico’s legislature passed a bill that promises to reduce emissions 30 percent by the end of the decade and includes a requirement that 35 percent of the country’s energy come from renewable sources by 2024.
These aren’t the only nations looking to address climate change in the absence of an international agreement. China is also moving towards a cap-and-trade scheme; the country has already launched seven pilot projects. The European Union’s emissions trading program achieved a major victory in March, when U.S. airlines dropped their challenge against the requirement that they pay for emissions created by flights in and out of Europe. The governments of Peru and Kenya, which are deeply worried about how climate change will affect their citizens' access to water and ability to grow food, have passed laws designed to combat climate change as well.
The plans that these countries are putting into place aren’t perfect, of course, and they’ll require work and oversight to become reality. But unlike the U.S. Congress, the governments of these countries are making progress, and overcoming similar obstacles to the ones America faces. Countries like Mexico and South Korea produce huge amounts of greenhouse gas, just like the United States, and it’s difficult for business to see a different way. In South Korea, industries that will have to change their ways under a cap-and-trade system fought against the proposal, just as they did here.
The steps these countries are taking are exactly the types of steps the United States could be taking if climate change and clean energy had not become politically untouchable issues. Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico is working on a clean energy standard not unlike Mexico’s. Kenya’s strategy for managing emissions includes an eminently practical green energy development plan that focuses on developing geothermal energy and wind resources. It also calls for bus rapid transit systems, light rail expansion, bikeways and pedestrian walkways.
These aren’t crazy or novel ideas: their success has been proven elsewhere. The difference between the United States and South Korea (or Mexico or Peru or Kenya or China) is that while our politicians are barely willing to talk about climate change, other governments are trying to do something about it.