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An Historic Climate Agreement

Posted by Wyatt C. King

Jan 26, 2015 9:33:17 AM

TOGETHER, THE UNITED STATES AND CHINA produce almost 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, to be effective, any plan to address climate change must include the full participation of both of these major polluters. For a long time, U.S. opponents of climate action have used this fact to argue that it would be senseless for the U.S. to incur the burden of climate solutions without a full commitment from China to do likewise. Setting aside the question of whether investing in climate solutions actually constitutes a “burden”—there’s plenty of evidence it doesn’t—the opponents’ argument recently got a whole lot weaker. On November 12, President Obama and President Xi Jinping jointly committed their respective nations to major emissions reductions.

The announcement was remarkable for numerous reasons, starting with its explicit acknowledgement that climate change is “one of the greatest threats facing humanity,” and that it is “already harming economies around the world.” It also stated that “economic evidence makes increasingly clear that smart action on climate change now can drive innovation, strengthen economic growth and bring broad benefits,” none of which will come as news to regular readers of Green Builder.

The substance of the commitments was also significant: The U.S. intends to reduce emissions to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. This builds on the existing U.S. commitment to reduce emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Achieving the new target will require the U.S. to double its current rate of emissions reduction.

For its part, China announced it would peak its CO2 emissions “around” 2030 and make best efforts to peak earlier. This marks the first time China has agreed to peak its emissions. The country intends to achieve this goal by massively increasing its share of non-fossil fuel energy to 20 percent by 2030. This will require 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of new nuclear, wind, solar and other zero-emission power sources by 2030—more energy than that produced by all of the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today.

Are these commitments enough? No. Even if all targets are met, emissions will still be far above the levels recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to keep global temperature rise within manageable bounds. But no one should expect to solve climate change in one fell swoop. The appropriate yardstick, for now, is political progress. This marks the first time the world’s two biggest emitters have made a joint commitment to address climate risk; it’s a real step forward. As Secretary of State John Kerry put it after the announcement: “There is no question that all of us will need to do more to push toward the de-carbonization of the global economy. But in climate diplomacy, as in life, you have to start at the beginning.”

Perhaps most importantly, this agreement injects momentum into preparations for the next round of international climate negotiations, scheduled for December 2015 in Paris. For any country that has been waiting for the big guys to exercise some leadership, the time has finally come.

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Climate Update: 2014 in Review

Posted by Sara Gutterman

Dec 30, 2014 2:26:25 PM

2014 was a pivotal year for the climate. According to NOAA, average global temperatures were the hottest ever recorded, and greenhouse gasses continue to run rampant. However, several important steps were taken to address our changing climate, and on the whole, it’s fair to say that meaningful, and hopefully long-lasting, progress was made this year.

Global Galvanization:

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Just in time for the Holidays: A Flurry of Climate Activity

Posted by Sara Gutterman

Dec 23, 2014 12:21:27 PM

The Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gough said that “great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” Like Van Gough’s artwork, comprised of singular brilliant strokes united together to form a masterpiece, the past few weeks have witnessed a series of activities that, combined, may turn out to be game changers in the quest to mitigate the risks of climate change.

To begin with, leaders from around the world convened in Peru to negotiate the Lima Accord, a much anticipated framework for a global treaty expected to be signed next year in Paris, requiring countries to submit domestic policy plans that limit greenhouse gas emissions with transparent metrics, identifiable methods of verification, and measurable milestones.

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Shameful Bill Fuels Polluters, Ignores Success Stories

Posted by Mike Collignon

Dec 22, 2014 1:28:00 PM

It’s purely coincidental, but the timing of the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima (COP20 for short) and the passage of the continuing resolution/omnibus spending bill by the US Congress is a fitting display of two very different philosophies.

Island nations are looking for significant pledges (or better yet, actions) in order to preserve their countries’ existence. Rising sea levels are causing increased erosion, so some of these nations are watching their land disappear before their eyes. The US and China made a major announcement prior to COP20, when the US pledged to reduce emissions by 28% and China committed to peak emissions by 2030. President Obama also promised to give $3 billion to the UN Green Climate Fund, which is established to help developing countries adopt sustainable practices. These two actions gave COP20 some serious momentum from the outset.

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Climate Update: In Accord?

Posted by Sara Gutterman

Dec 18, 2014 6:57:33 AM

After two weeks of somewhat frustrating and sometimes heated negotiation, delegates representing 196 countries at the COP20 meetings in Lima reached a climate change agreement on Sunday that, if enacted, would commit every nation across the globe to reduce its rate of greenhouse gas emissions.

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