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Climate change protests meet fossil fuel realities

Aaron Task
Editor in Chief

More than 300,000 people marched through Manhattan Sunday, in an effort to bring attention to climate change, with companion efforts in 150 other countries. On Monday, a small subset of Sunday's participants marched on Wall Street to protest the financing of greenhouse gas-emitting industries.

The marches come ahead of a United Nations summit on climate change Tuesday, where President Obama is scheduled to speak. In addition, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is hosting a meeting to discuss climate change with executives from companies such as Air France-KLM, Siemens, Royal Dutch Shell and McDonald’s, as well as former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Bloomberg reports.

Ahead of the President's address, White House budget director Shaun Donovan on Friday said: "Climate denial will cost us billions of dollars."

The march and UN summit come amid rising awareness of what Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is expected to call "the cost of climate inaction" in a speech on Monday. According to Bloomberg, more than 150 global companies are now using the cost of carbon in analyzing long-term investments, Unilever will endorse a carbon tax and companies like Mars are pledging to fully transition operations to renewable energy.

Meanwhile, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced plans to divest its $860 million investments from fossil fuels, bringing the total assets of groups who've made similar pledges to $50 billion, The New York Times reports.

All of this adds up to increased awareness of climate change and hopes that momentum will build toward the UN Climate Change Summit in Paris next year.

According to The Huffington Post:

What everyone seems eager to avoid is a repeat of 2009's much-hyped climate negotiations in Copenhagen, which were expected to produce a new climate treaty but failed to do so. Since then, there has been slow progress toward a new deal that includes actions from all countries, and negotiators are working toward completing that agreement at the Paris meeting.

Indeed, hope springs eternal for a global agreement to address climate change, despite fierce opposition from the fossil fuel industry and the very long odds of any climate change legislation passing the U.S. Senate -- and that's before the 2014 midterm elections may put it in Repubilcan hands.

“They're going to try to make everyone believe that the United States of America is going to take some kind of step against global warming, against climate change, or whatever they rename it next time, and it's not going to happen,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) told Bloomberg BNA.

Further lost in the excitement over rising awareness of climate change - and hopes for a global agreement in Paris -- is the reality that the global economy is only becoming more reliant on fossil fuels. Earlier this month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicted that world oil consumption will increase 38% by 2040, "largely driven by demand in the developing world, especially in Asia and the Middle East."

Reflecting those carbon realities, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be noticably absent from the UN climate summit this week. China and India are the number one and number three producers of greenhouse gases, respectively, and China recently passed the EU in emissions per capita -- a stunning development given millions of Chinese remain 'off the grid'.

Furthermore, global greenhouse gas rose 2.9% in 2013 -- despite the Obama administration's focus on the issue -- and global emissions rose 2.3% to record levels, the NYT reports, citing the Global Carbon Project.

Aaron Task is Editor-in-Chief of Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter at @aarontask or email him at altask@yahoo.com.