Lessons from the past for Copenhagen

For the next two weeks, the eyes of the world will be on Copenhagen, where leaders of some 200 countries have gathered to try to find some kind of consensus on tackling the problem of climate change.

Unless the world can combine its efforts, we won’t solve the problem,” said Jonathan Pershing, the State Department’s special climate envoy.

And he is right.  While we probably won’t see the effects of any agreements that come out of Copenhagen for many years, I have no doubt that they will make a difference.  You see, global cooperation in the form of treaties and agreements do work.  This is what we found out while putting together Blacksmith’s latest World’s Worst Polluted Places report.

We found that the world is in a much better shape today because of cooperative global decisions made decades ago. Here are 2 examples from the report.

1) The worldwide leaded gas phase out that began in the 1970s was a global effort by governments, multilateral agencies and the private sector to eliminate lead in gasoline. As a result, as of February 2009, only 11 countries continue to use leaded gasoline. Elevated blood lead levels among children dropped from 88% in the pre-phase out years to around 1%  in the post-phase out years.

2) The Chemical Weapons Convention was an international treaty to eliminate chemicals used as agents of warfare. The treaty was approved by the UN General Assembly in 1992 and ultimately ratified by 188 countries, effectively curtailing nearly all production and use of chemical weapons worldwide.  Since 1995, chemical weapons stockpiles in Russia and the U.S. have been destroyed through a network of public outreach offices and educational activities. Destruction programs are ongoing.  By 2021, all chemical weapons in the world should be destroyed.

Although there are ongoing challenges still facing these two worldwide initiatives, the results are undeniable.

The promise of Copenhagen is a better, cleaner world. If we can all work together, we can solve the problem of climate change AND pollution.

— Richard

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