As the federal government gets started implementing a national Climate Action Plan, the country’s boldest state-level experiment is making strong progress. Yesterday, California announced the results of its latest auction of carbon pollution permits, completely selling out of its permits for future carbon pollution for the first time. The increased demand for these pollution permits reflects an encouraging development: Confidence in California’s climate action program is growing, and its long-term future is becoming more and more certain.
Historically, the world has talked about climate change primarily as an environmental issue. We focus on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, rising seas, climbing temperatures, and other hard data. While this narrative is important, it’s missing a critical component — people.
After all, communities everywhere will be affected by climate change’s impacts. Those in impoverished, developing nations will likely be hit hardest. That’s why it’s necessary to talk about climate change not just as an environmental issue, but also as an issue of climate justice focused on the way in which people, especially the most vulnerable, are being affected.
Extreme weather and climate events such as storms, floods, droughts and wildfires visibly impact not only our communities and livelihoods, but also our resources and related infrastructure. In its latest report, U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) warns that domestic energy supplies are likely to face more severe disruptions given rising temperatures that result in extreme weather events. The report accurately outlines the risks climate change poses to the energy sector in the United States and serves as a wake-up call on this critical issue, which I highlighted in my testimony before the Energy and Power Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this year.
While manufacturing is a critical part of the U.S. economy, it’s struggled over the last several years—both financially and environmentally. Overall U.S. manufacturing employment has dropped by more than one-third since 2000. Meanwhile, U.S. industry—of which manufacturing is the largest component—still uses more energy than any other sector and serves as the largest source of U.S. and global greenhouse gas emissions.
The good news is that energy efficiency can help U.S. manufacturing increase profits, protect jobs, and lead the development of a low-carbon economy. The Midwest’s pulp and paper industry is a case in point: New WRI analysis finds that the pulp and paper sector—the third-largest energy user in U.S. manufacturing—could cost-effectively reduce its energy use in the Midwest by 25 percent through use of existing technologies. These improvements could save hundreds of thousands of jobs, lower costs, and help the United States achieve its goal of reducing emissions by 17 percent by 2020. As the White House moves to cut carbon dioxide pollution in America, energy efficiency improvements in Midwest pulp and paper mills are a tangible example of the win-win-win emissions-reduction opportunities in U.S. industry.
The White House’s climate action plan aims to transform the U.S. electricity system in the coming decades. The President directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop and implement standards to reduce carbon dioxide pollution from power plants, double renewable energy in the United States by 2020, and open public lands to an additional 10 gigawatts of renewable energy development, enough to power more than 6 million homes.
The big question is: Are renewable energy sources up to the task of taking on a significant portion of the country’s electricity? Recent trends and data show that the answer to this question is a definitive “yes.”
Four big signs that renewable energy is ready for the limelight include:
The world has been asking: How will the United States turn its climate change talk into real action? President Obama began to answer that question this week when he announced his National Climate Action Plan, laying out concrete steps to curb climate change at home and abroad, including a policy that would bar the U.S. from financing conventional coal plants internationally.
The concrete steps he described are vital--most importantly because they represent actions, not just words. But everyone should also take note of the starting point in his speech. It reveals the critical role the international climate change process can play in stimulating climate action.
Working toward an equitable and ambitious international climate agreement in 2015 that is informed by science, considers the specific needs of the most vulnerable populations, and catalyzes sustainable development.
President Obama is in Africa this week to discuss development, investment, health, and, notably, food security. The trip comes on the heels of the president’s groundbreaking announcement of a U.S. Climate Action Plan. So it’s a fitting time for Obama and other global leaders to take notice of a strategy that addresses both climate change and food security in Africa—re-greening.
Re-greening—a process where African farmers manage and protect trees that grow on their farms, rather than cutting them down—is already beginning to transform the continent’s drylands. Supporting and scaling up the low-tech process can not only increase crop yields in drought-prone regions, it can mitigate climate change and reduce rural poverty.
The History of Re-greening in Africa’s Drylands
Re-greening in Africa first garnered international attention back in 2007, when the New York Times published a front page article entitled “In Niger, Trees and Crops Help Turn Back the Desert.” Lydia Polgreen, who was the NYT’s West Africa bureau chief in those days, had visited Niger and reported “at least 7.4 million newly tree-covered acres.” The NYT article revealed that this large-scale re-greening was not due to expensive tree-planting projects, but was the result of farmers protecting and managing young trees that regenerated on their cultivated land.
This re-greening did not happen everywhere. It was observed in particular in dryland regions with high population densities. Life in dryland areas presents many challenges, and farmers and decision makers are continuously searching for ways to restore their resilience and agricultural productivity.
WRI Europe Director Kitty van der Heijden shows her passion for - and knowledge of -sustainable development at the TEDxHaarlem, June 2012.