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New Climate Commitments Help Set the Stage for Paris

Bob Siegel headshotWords by RP Siegel
Energy & Environment
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This past week has certainly been an eventful one, enough so that this important bit of news on the climate change front might have slipped by unnoticed.

Three of the top 10 carbon emitting nations -- the U.S., China and Brazil -- announced new carbon reduction commitments in a joint news briefing on June 30. The countries pledged to obtain 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, not including hydropower, by 2030.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was in Washington for the announcement. Brazil, which is considered the seventh largest emitter (if the EU is treated as one country), further announced that they would restore over 46,000 square miles of forests, an area the size of England, while pursuing “policies aimed at eliminating illegal deforestation.”

For its part China pledged to reduce its emissions, relative to the size of its economy, by 60 to 65 percent by 2030. This adds specificity to the agreement China made with the U.S. back in November. Back then, the Chinese simply said that their emissions would peak by 2030. Their target at that time was a 40 to 45 percent reduction. So, this represents a significant uptick. Given the size of China’s economy, it’s clear to everyone, including the Chinese, that whatever they do could determine the outcome for all. China is now both the largest producer and largest customer for solar energy products.

For the U.S., this would mean tripling renewable energy output by 2030. That sounds ambitious, but given its recent rate of growth for solar alone, which is doubling every three years, it seems fully achievable. Still the U.S. will need substantial contribution from wind and other sources, including geothermal, to meet that goal. Beyond this, the U.S. will depend on new EPA regulations for both motor vehicles and power plants to meet its target.

This agreement, as the New York Times reported, adds “momentum” to the cause of addressing climate change, and positions the major powers well for a historic agreement in Paris at the end of this year.

“Following progress during my trips to China and India, this shows that the world’s major economies can begin to transcend some of the old divides and work together to confront the common challenge that we face — something that we have to work on for future generations,” President Barack Obama said of the announcement:

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said, “Over the past 24 hours, we’ve seen a very nice example of the diversity of countries engaging on the climate solution.” But she added, “The sum total of these does not get us to 2 degrees.” (The U.N. Environmental Program says capping global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius is critical.)

What will it take to get over that hump? Well, for one thing, some major polluters, such as India and Japan (No. 4 and No. 8, respectively) have not yet submitted their plans to the U.N., as required by last year’s Conference of Parties in Lima, Peru.

But most experts are saying the Holy Grail will be a global market-based deal that establishes a price on carbon. What’s ironic about this is the fact that a) China is already doing this, and b) the U.S., where the idea first originated and who is probably the world greatest supporter of market-based solutions to everything else, is not. The reason why, of course, is the fact that many Republicans are not only refusing to do anything, but continue to even acknowledge that the problem even exists. Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, is using his skepticism of China’s commitment as an excuse for inaction, essentially saying: "Why should we act if we don’t believe they will?" This latest commitment gives Inhofe less to stand on, not unlike the polar bears whose Arctic ice floes continue to shrink.

Another yet unresolved issue is money for the developing countries that need assistance -- not only to transform their economies, but also to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions. President Obama has already pledged $3 billion toward the Green Climate Fund, but Republicans are not willing to let him have it.

Image credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service: Flickr Creative Commons

RP Siegel headshotRP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com

 

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