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U.S. Files Climate Commitment in Advance of Paris Talks

Andrew Burger headshotWords by Andrew Burger
Leadership & Transparency
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On Tuesday, the U.S. became the latest country to submit a climate action plan to the United Nations in advance of the Paris climate conference.

The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) asked countries to submit a strategic plan -- detailing how they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change -- by a March 31 deadline.

By submitting its plan, the U.S. joins more than 30 countries that released national commitments to the forthcoming global climate change agreement, to be reached in Paris in December. Others include Switzerland, Norway, Mexico and all the countries covered under the European Union.

Some 194 nations plus the EU are signatories to the UNFCCC climate change treaty, which was enacted in 1994.

Forging a new climate treaty and successor to the Kyoto Protocol has proven difficult. Negotiations have been hindered by disagreements over the shared responsibility of developed and developing nations for past and present GHG emissions. Debates over how developing nations should implement climate strategies -- and where the money and expertise will come from -- have also proved to be longstanding obstacles.

America's commitment to a global treaty on climate change

In its plan, the U.S. pledged to reduce national carbon emissions by as much as 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. The commitment “essentially formalizes an identical pledge President Barack Obama made during a November summit in China,” energy and environment reporter Alan Neuhauser wrote in the U.S. News & World Report on Tuesday.

Collectively, the 33 nations that filed their commitments by the initial deadline represent nearly 60 percent of worldwide anthropogenic carbon emissions, Neuhauser pointed out.

Encompassing a variety of executive actions undertaken by President Obama, realization of its UNFCCC climate commitment would put the U.S. on track to reduce carbon emissions “on the order of 80 percent by 2050,” White House senior adviser Brian Deese told reporters during a March 31 conference call.

"The administration's climate work will help meet the ambitious but achievable goal we have submitted today. We have the tools we need to meet this goal and take action on pollution. And we know this is good for our economy, good for our health and good for our future."

Momentum builds


Hopes that a new global climate treaty will be reached in Paris are rising as of late, as some of the world's largest polluters announce more aggressive GHG reduction targets and plans to ramp up clean energy and energy efficiency solutions.

China's new and strengthened policy of reducing air and environmental pollution doesn't hurt prospects either. A renewed spirit of cooperation was also evident by the Chinese government's pledge to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy and cap its carbon emissions by 2030. Those pledges came about as part of joint China-U.S. climate announcement issued during President Obama's visit to China earlier this year.

China and the U.S. are the largest sources of anthropogenic carbon emissions in the world. Similarly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India – the world's fourth-largest source of carbon emissions – and President Obama announced a new cooperative agreement on clean energy and climate change this past January.

This growing momentum comes amid word from national and international climate monitoring organizations that 2014 was the warmest year on record.

Mean global surface temperature last year was 0.57 degrees Celsius higher than the 1961-1990 average, edging out 2005 and 2010 as the warmest year on record, according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization. According to the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), global temperatures averaged 0.68 degrees Celsius (1.24 degrees Fahrenheit) above their long-term average in 2014. Fourteen of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred since the turn of the century.

The increased temperature isn't evenly distributed around the world, nor are the manifold effects on ecosystems and societies. This has climate scientists and government leaders increasingly concerned about our warming planet's potential to spark exoduses and resource conflicts in hard-hit regions, small island and lesser-developed nations in particular.

Image credits: UNFCCC

Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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