Jewish and environmental groups reacted positively to last week’s news that the United States and China had reached a climate agreement to cut carbon emissions. President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping – who together represent the world’s two largest economies and emitters of greenhouse gases (around 40 percent of the world’s emissions) – announced that China’s carbon pollution will peak by the year 2030 while renewables will increase to 20 percent of total energy consumption; and the United States will reduce its emissions by up to 28 percent below its 2005 level by 2025.
“It’s a game changer in terms of dealing with climate change issues,” said Rabbi Lawrence Troster, rabbinic scholar in residence at GreenFaith, an interfaith environmental coalition, and founder of Shomrei Breishit: Rabbis and Cantors for the Earth, a new cross-denominational group of religious leaders taking a strong stand on climate change. “People are going to say, ‘Well it’s not enough’ or whatever. OK, fine. But it set very specific goals. It’s the first time that China has really committed itself in that kind of way so it undercuts anybody who says that the U.S. shouldn’t act unless China acts. But I think it’s also going to have a major impact on the climate negotiations for a new climate treaty that have started and will hopefully be concluded in Paris at the end of 2015.”
While the climate targets create momentum heading into next year’s Paris climate conference, domestic politics could curtail the Obama administration’s ambitious goals. Congressional Republicans, fresh off national election victories that brought them control of the U.S. Senate, immediately criticized the deal as one-sided since China doesn’t have to curb carbon emissions for 16 years. Also, the agreement isn’t binding in any way so it is essentially a paper promise for now.
Washington Jewish Week reached out to the Republican Jewish Coalition for comment but the organization said it had not formulated a position on the deal.
“I am very glad to see that both China and the United States have recognized the need for leading industrial countries to take responsibility for preserving the planet,” said Rabbi Jack Moline, National Jewish Democratic Council executive director. “Our position is clear. The science indicates that there are serious impacts on our climate by human activity. Those impacts are not positive. And that the responsibility that we have as Americans, as Jews, is to be better stewards of the Earth. We are definitely in favor of the reduction of the use of fossil fuels and their replacement by renewable resources.”
Joe Hess, Jewish National Fund vice president of government affairs, said he fully supports the agreement and indicated that Israel could be a leader in finding climate solutions because the Middle Eastern country is at the forefront of solar energy, agricultural and water research.
“Israel has done a remarkable job given where it lives, the environment it lives under. Being able to say ‘well we have a water problem, let’s solve this with a drip irrigation system. We have an energy problem, let’s go to solar energy,’ ” said Hess. “Wonderful Israel is doing this, and I’m very proud of the small and innovative nation. And more important, Israel is willing to share it with the rest of the world. All you have to do is ask.”
Other organizations contacted by WJW that approve of the agreement include the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, the Natural Resources Defense Council and The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, an initiative of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
Jewish Council for Public Affairs President and CEO Rabbi Steve Gutow called the deal “probably the most exciting and most important news in the effort to achieve a worldwide climate change solution that has happened ever.”
There was also a general agreement that the American public supports climate change action and a transition to clean energy; and that the faith community is in a unique position to make the moral case for climate change action.
This past September, more than 400,000 people participated in the largest climate march in history – The People’s Climate March in New York City. Approximately 140 Jewish organizations endorsed the march and thousands of Jews, hundreds of whom carried shofarot, joined at least 12,000 other people from the faith community at the march.
“I think that was a real turning point in the Jewish participation in the climate movement, and I like to think that President Obama’s interest in this was encouraged even more by the grassroots participation in the march,” said Dr. Mirele Goldsmith, who was one of the key people in organizing the Jewish community for the march. She also founded Jews Against Hydrofracking that aims to end fracking in New York and is the director of Jewish Greening Fellowship, a grassroots program to help Jewish communities and organizations become leaders in mobilizing a Jewish response to climate change.
The next step for the Jewish and faith communities is organizing vigils around the world on Dec. 7 called “Lights for Lima” to coincide with the Lima climate talks that activists hope will deliver the first working draft for a binding agreement at Paris 2015.
“We’re not going to stop. We need the community to be involved and to have our voices be heard. We’re going to keep going,” said Goldsmith. “I think we are going to see a lot more engagement in the Jewish community in the climate movement in these months and years ahead.”