As leaders around the world are meeting in the Middle East for the 18th annual United Nations climate conference, media reports on developing and developed country relations have focused on the reportedly bitter and acerbic dynamics - reaching levels of dysfunction similar to the historic talks in Copenhagen. I commented about the negative tone to one of my colleagues in New Delhi and he retorted, "Best to rely on the ground reality, and not media reports!" While the ground reality in the Doha conference hall is nebulous at best, the ground reality in our communities is clear. The ground reality from Doha to Delhi to D.C. is that our planet is warming and our communities are facing violent extreme weather events that are devastating and costly. The ground reality is that we need our leaders to take action in Doha by making progress on global action on climate change.
Recent months clearly show the destructive effects of extreme weather on communities around the world. In both New York and New Jersey, state governors claim that the response to Hurricane Sandy will cost nearly $79 billion - becoming the second costly disaster in the United States following Hurricane Katrina. Across the world in Asia, Cyclone Nilam hit southern India in early November, causing fierce flooding and displacing more than 100,000 people. A report released last week by DFID, Future Proofing Cities, shows that Indian cities, including megacities Delhi and Mumbai and mid-sized cities Jaipur and Patna, rank among the most vulnerable cities to climate change.
At the climate talks, world leaders agree that global emissions must be decreased. However, they continue to disagree and bicker on who must act and how fast. This ongoing dispute continues to slow global action. It also sends the message to millions that our governments would rather debate than act to protect our livelihoods and economies from the dangerous effects of climate change.
At Doha, we need U.S. leaders to act on President Obama's 2012 election promises to "continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet, because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children's future." We need more leadership from the United States both internationally and domestically to drive global solutions, as discussed by Eugene Robinson.
India, as an emerging global leader, also has an opportunity to lead to make progress in reaching a global deal. While more can be done, India has already made significant commitments toward a sustainable economy through its National Action Plan on Climate Change and the 12th Five Year Plan as highlighted in our updated factsheet, "India: Addressing Climate Change and Moving Towards a Low-Carbon Future."
The United States, India, and other leaders need to act in Doha and wake up to the ground realities of the recent spate of devastating extreme weather events around to world. Negotiators must move away from divisive tactics of inaction and, instead as discussed by Varad Pande, move to a "more pragmatic and incremental approach" to combat global climate change. The ground reality is that our future depends on it.