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At Home and Abroad, US Climate Leadership Builds on Solid Foundation

This post originally appeared on The Hill.


As climate talks enter the final stretch in Paris, the United States is taking its rightful place as a world leader in tackling the challenge of climate change.

This is a moral obligation for all of us. It is the scientifically sound thing to do. It is our chance to hold all countries accountable for their actions on climate change. And economically, it is as indisputable as prevention being cheaper than the cure. We cannot allow politics-as-usual to block this step forward.

Under President Obama, the United States has sent a clear message at home and abroad that it’s serious about climate action. We’ve vastly increased fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, set standards to limit carbon pollution under the Clean Power Plan, and brought China and other countries together around firm international commitments for action.

Those successes have given Obama the courage and conviction to push for a global agreement in Paris. And the rest of the world is getting on board. Already, more than 180 countries, representing more than 90 percent of global emissions, have submitted their climate action plans ahead of the conference, a marked change from the past.

We have seen major commitments from leaders in the private sector and cities to drive down their global emissions. More than 150 businesses have joined the American Business for Climate Action pledge. A group of countries, including the U.S., and investors, led by Bill Gates, have committed to add billions to clean energy R&D. More than 420 cities have joined the Compact of Mayors, which includes pledges to measure and manage their emissions.

Yet, arguments come fast and furious seeking to convince us that there is no necessity to act or worse that we should even try. In Congress, in courts, and in media reports, opponents try to divert our attention and undermine our conviction.

These arguments rely on flawed grounds. Some claim industry can’t adjust. Some claim the cost is too great. Others vow to interfere with the president’s diplomatic efforts, just as opponents in the Senate tried to derail a nuclear deal with Iran.

I’m not surprised to see the opposition ramp up. With three decades in the political world – as a congressman, governor of New Mexico and as the Secretary of Energy – I’m long familiar with how some people will fight by whatever means to get their way. Yet a close look at each argument against climate action, judged fairly, only reinforces the case to move forward:

  • On international law, the administration is negotiating an agreement that builds on existing law going back to UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that Congress ratified in 1992.
  • On federal standards, the new rules build on the Clean Air Act that was signed into law by Congress and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court
  • On the economics, multiple studies find that taking climate action is consistent with strong economic growth. Multiple government and independent analyses show that the plans will likely reduce electric bills overall in the long run.
  • On the urgency to act: Over nearly 25 years of international efforts, the science has only become more clear. This year is likely to be the hottest on record. And, the impacts of climate change – severe droughts, floods, sea-level rise, and extreme weather events - are beginning to be felt in the U.S. and worldwide.

That’s why, multiple polls find that a wide majority of Americans support an international agreement,

Make no mistake, the agreement being hashed out in Paris will set our nation and the world on a new course. This path will take us from the polluting, fossil-fuel reliant model of the past two centuries to the low-carbon, clean energy model that is taking shape now.

This path offers business opportunities for innovation at home and will open new clean energy markets overseas. It will also help the most vulnerable communities, those without access to energy and who are facing existential threats due to their homes and villages.

Reaching an agreement won’t solve everything. But a strong agreement will give a strong push that will bend the curve on global emissions and will bring all countries under a common agreement that can be reviewed and strengthened in the years ahead.

The United States is a country that has led the world through many of its greatest challenges. We have constantly stood up for what is right and fair. It is our responsibility to do so again and lead us to a healthier, safer and more resilient future.

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