Seeing a New Resolution on Climate Change in 2016

Worker's clean solar panels for maximum efficiency at the power solar facility in Lancaster, California
Workers clean solar panels for maximum efficiency at a power plant in Lancaster, California.

By Lynn Scarlett

As 2016 gets underway, many of us are discussing resolutions – those well-meaning promises we make to ourselves that often end up inducing guilt as we struggle to keep them.  As I reflect on this new year, however, I find myself intrigued by the other type of resolution I noticed over the holiday season: the wide-screen, high-definition televisions or new smartphones with increasingly precise cameras and displays.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month, much of the attention was paid to an emerging television technology, called ‘4K,’ representing the latest advancements in high-definition viewing.  These new TVs offer screens with two times the vertical resolution and twice the horizontal resolution of current high-definition TVs.

Getting a new television or smartphone with these new screens can feel like getting your vision corrected. The images you look at are sharper, and the colors are more vibrant. Everything looks more real, in part because the image is at a higher resolution – there are more pixels, and therefore the overall quality of the image you’re looking at is higher, and you can see everything better than you did before. Now, when you watch that football game or that epic science-fiction movie or that documentary showing the largest Arctic glacial calving ever recorded on film, it’s almost like you’re there.

So, when I say that in 2016 we have a new resolution for climate change, what I mean is that we have a new clarity: a much sharper view of what a low-carbon future might be like and how to get there. As President Barack Obama noted in his State of the Union address this week, wind power in many areas is cheaper than conventional power, and solar now employs more people in this country than coal — and in higher-paying jobs to boot. New technologies are leading to new actions and commitments from governments and companies.

Every day, we are adding to the “climate of innovation” – the new wave of techniques and technologies being developed to reduce emissions and address impacts. For example, scientists are using new GPS technology to understand the daily changes in deforestation in the Amazon, and using new ocean-mapping technology to see the effects of coastal resilience on the U.S. East Coast.  New approaches are being suggested, like adapting the service-oriented business models of Uber and Spotify to increase uptake of energy efficiency. These ideas are being shared between governments and in the private sector.

As a consequence, the options for clean energy here in the U.S. are reaching levels never before seen.  The ability to choose your own energy generation source and have clean, affordable, reliable energy allows everyone to see his or her life through a new lens. The cost reductions, electricity market deregulation and financial creativity of the last 15 years have combined to produce more accessible renewable products for consumers.

With all this change, it’s no wonder that the public’s attitudes are changing, too, more clearly recognizing the bright future ahead.  A recent study by the New Climate Economy, an international project led by former Mexican President Felipe Calderón and British economist Nicholas Stern, reviewed more than 430,000 English-language social media posts between 2013 and the end of COP21 on Dec. 12, 2015.  Their analysis showed huge uptick — on the order of 700 percent — in the discussion of economic co-benefits of addressing global warming while boosting economic growth.

The boldest step in 2015 was the Paris Agreement on climate change, reached by more than 180 nations, which have now committed themselves to lower emissions and limiting climate impact.  This bottom-up approach enables nations to pursue their own commitments, based on the respective needs and abilities of their infrastructure, while still contributing to a common cause that will hopefully see the world stay on a path toward a 1.5 Celsius degree temperature increase or less. The specificity of the commitments from the participating nations brings an increased clarity, an ability to understand precisely what we can achieve with current commitments and what remains to be done.

The idea behind a resolution is empowerment, using the new energy of a new year to tackle a problem that until now we’ve had trouble mastering, whether that’s getting fit or eating healthy or turning off the television. As we look to 2016, I encourage everyone to take a few moments to reflect on that other type of resolution.  We’ve gained a clearer vision of how to address the challenges of climate change, by empowering individuals, policymakers, and the private sector. Together, we have a great opportunity to step up and help shift the world towards a low-carbon future.

Lynn Scarlett, Global Managing Director for Public Policy at The Nature Conservancy. In this role, she directs policy in the United States and the 35 countries in which the Conservancy operates with a focus on climate and nature- based solutions. Most recently, she was the Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Lynn also served at Interior as the Acting Secretary of the Interior in 2006. 

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