IN HONOUR of Earth Day, let me draw your attention to one of the defining challenges of our generation: the need to act on climate change. As Secretary Kerry has noted, “Our world is fundamentally changing. Fourteen of the fifteen warmest years on record have occurred since 2000. Last year was the warmest of all. And with added heat comes an altered environment.”
Endangered Slovak forests
Dr. Andrew Gillespie of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently spent a month as an Embassy Science Fellow in Slovakia where he discussed the effects of climate change on forests with forestry experts from the Slovak Government and Technical University of Zvolen.
Both sides agreed that climate change will dramatically impact Slovak forests by increasing tree mortality from drought, fire and pests, such as bark beetles.
Extreme weather phenomena – including the Bora wind storms which damaged much of the High Tatras forest in 2004 – could become more frequent and intense, and changes like these could reduce or eliminate important Slovak tree species, such as spruce, which are adapted to cooler climates.
Clean energy is a chance
Secretary Kerry also said, “This is not a choice between bad and worse.” Taking action on climate change by altering the way we produce energy, for example, is something we cannot afford not to do.
Clean energy is an economic opportunity to create jobs and new technologies.
The global energy market of the future is poised to be the largest market the world has ever known if it can successfully balance economic, environmental and social concerns.
In that vein, Dr. Gillespie noted that an economy can have robust economic growth while moving to cleaner energy and emissions reduction.
He cited the 1980s example of acid rain in the United States. Once the EPA clarified the rules and provided targets, companies were able to meet the new targets three years ahead of schedule – and at 25 percent of the estimated cost.
The innovators who created the technologies to meet the targets made significant profits, creating even more new jobs.
Also Slovakia may benefit
Slovakia could similarly benefit. In a business environment that fosters innovation, Slovak companies could lead the development of cutting-edge clean technologies while creating jobs in the process.
It makes sense for Slovakia and its Visegrad Four neighbours to collaborate in tackling both the causes and the effects of climate change, as the threats and opportunities cross national boundaries.
What can we do?
You may wonder what we as individuals can do to act on climate change. We can improve our understanding of the links between energy consumption, climate and forests. We can better manage our personal energy consumption and work to replace fossil fuels with greener energy sources. We can also take simple steps such as planting trees, because parks and forests help offset climate change by cleaning the air and storing carbon.
In other words, we can work together to solve this problem. It will not be easy or quick, but now is the time to act. We owe it to ourselves and future generations.
By Theodore Sedgwick, US Ambassador to Slovakia
6. May 2015 at 6:30