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Can Paris be at the Vanguard of Global Climate Action?

As the Climate Summit in Paris approaches, there is reason for hope that the world is finally getting serious about cutting its carbon emissions.

As the Climate Summit in Paris approaches, there is reason for hope that the world is finally getting serious about cutting its carbon emissions.

Matthew Dixon/Shutterstock

What accounts for President Obama’s reportedly high spirits on his recent visit to the Arctic, ground-zero for climate change? As the president is acutely aware, there is nothing good about melting ice caps and thawing permafrost. Maybe it was just the great outdoors. Or maybe he is feeling hopeful that we can still save the planet.

As the Climate Summit in Paris approaches, there is reason for hope. For the first time, the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas polluters, the U.S. and China, are coming to the negotiating table with serious commitments to rein in their emissions. Also for the first time, developing countries, including Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico, are making similarly serious commitments to reduce their emissions, and India just rolled out its action plan. Meanwhile, the E.U., which has already achieved major emissions reductions, is pushing for more.

Will these climate action plans add up to a package deal that limits temperature rise to 2 degrees? Will they insure the world’s most vulnerable communities against the dangerous climate changes that are already inevitable? No way. But these commitments collectively send the message that fossil fuels are no longer blue chip investments, and they create momentum for the essential shift to clean energy that is already underway. While every country, including the U.S., needs to move faster to make much bigger systems changes, we are at last seeing change, and its pace is accelerating.

U.S. ranking on Climate Action Tracker.
Here is how the U.S. ranks on Climate Action Tracker compared to other countries around the world. Click here for more information and to see how other countries stack up.

While the pledged cuts in emissions are all-important to any deal coming out of Paris, affirmative commitments to invest in clean energy may prove to be equally important. As clean power becomes more affordable and available, it becomes cheaper and easier to achieve the greenhouse gas reductions we genuinely need. Germany, Portugal, Spain, Denmark and Scotland have all proven that renewable energy can power developed countries at scale. In the process, they have helped to make renewable energy affordable. Thanks to the German and Chinese markets for solar energy, the cost of solar has decreased by 80 percent since 2008, and the costs will keep dropping as the technology itself continues to improve. Standing alone, China’s commitment to install 70 gigawatts of new solar by 2017 is a game-changer.

In the U.S., the outlook is brighter than it might appear. Congressional gridlock and the amazing persistence of our sham “debate” over climate science obscures the reality that we are making steady progress, retiring dirty coal-fired power plants and increasing grid penetration of wind and solar energy—very dramatically in some states including California and Texas. The president’s Clean Power Plan affirms a transition away from coal to clean energy that is already happening. Meanwhile, the administration is taking action on many other fronts, including cuts in methane pollution, that will enable us to deliver on our promises to the international community.

In short, when this year’s climate talks begin, the crucial players will come to Paris willing and able to make a deal. It won’t be the deal we ultimately need, but as they negotiate over forward-looking commitments to ratchet up emission reductions, they can safely bet that it will keep getting easier to get off fossil fuels.

As the world prepares for a date with destiny—auspiciously, in the world’s greatest city for dates—we will be blogging on key deliverables in the U.S. and abroad and keeping you informed of what we are doing at Earthjustice to ensure that, on the road to Paris, we step off the fast track to disaster.

About This Series

Road to Paris and Beyond is a blog series exploring how Earthjustice’s climate and energy work will help strengthen the goals to be set by the United States and others during the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, and the development of the new global climate agreement.  The Paris Climate Change Conference (aka “COP21”) begins on November 30 and runs until December 11, 2015. 

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