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By Dean Scott
Nov. 16 — The Obama administration’s Nov. 16 release of a plan showing how it can cut its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 will be met with similar low-carbon plans from European nations and even a few developing nations, all in the hope of pushing global investment dollars into clean energy.
The U.S. was joined by Canada and Mexico in releasing their so-called mid-century low-carbon strategies with just days to go at UN climate talks in Morocco. The U.K., Norway, the European Union and several EU member nations including France, Italy, Sweden and Germany also have plans under way, according to environmental ministers and groups watching the Marrakech talks.
Ultimately, the ministers said, they will be joined by several developing nations that also are mulling their own pathways for mid-century low-carbon development, including Costa Rica and Peru.
The U.S. plan shows various options for its 80 percent emissions cut—from 2005 levels—but all of those paths would require a dramatic shift in policies and research that embrace solar, wind and other renewable energy well beyond the reach of current U.S. energy policies.
The European nations, Peru, Costa Rica and other nations are slated to discuss their strategies Nov. 17 at the Marrakech talks; the hope is that in a few years, dozens of nations will have joined the U.S. in detailing their low-carbon economic development strategies, Laurence Tubiana, French climate change ambassador, told reporters Nov. 16. “I hope to see at least 25 country mid-century low emission pathways prepared,” Tubiana said, in time for arguably the next key date on the horizon for the Paris climate pact: 2018.
That’s when the nearly 200 nations that reached the climate deal in December 2015 are to consider ratcheting up climate actions that even they admit are nowhere near what is needed to halt rising global temperatures.
The Nov. 7-18 UN summit in Morocco is largely focused on taking the first steps to implement the Paris pact, which entered into force just days before the Marrakech summit opened.
Nations were called to—but not required to—develop the 2050 decarbonization plans under the 2015 Paris Agreement, and the Obama administration has sought to position itself a leader in producing a detailed plan. The 111-page plan, the United States Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization, is long in detail and chocked full of analysis for future action. It also credits the Obama administration for cutting carbon pollution from energy 9 percent since 2008; the U.S. also is on track, the report says, to meet its pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.
But the actual U.S. commitment to fighting global climate change, and to the Paris Agreement itself, has been thrown into doubt by the election of President-elect Donald Trump, who vowed during the campaign to “cancel” U.S. participation in the Paris deal.
The report, the bulk of which was written before Trump’s surprising Election Day win over Democrat Hillary Clinton, is, as expected, silent on what Trump’s pledge to eliminate climate funding and U.S. climate regulations would do to efforts to meet the 80 percent U.S. emissions reduction goal outlined in the document.
Instead the report assumes future presidents will build on Obama’s climate agenda. “Future administrations have authority under existing statutes to continue using similar tools with increasing ambition which, along with expanded action at the local, state and regional level, could build a pathway to 80 percent emissions reductions or more,” it says.
Outgoing Obama administration officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived to the 22nd Conference of the Parties summit in Marrakech Nov. 16, are prodding Trump to maintain engaged in domestic and international climate efforts, even as he shows no signs of doing so. Kerry, in his final speech to UN climate negotiators after more than two decades of effort to push for climate action, said he is confident the U.S. drive toward more clean energy won’t suffer a setback.
The last eight years have seen rapid development of U.S. wind and solar generation “and the reason… that will continue is that the marketplace will dictate that—not the government,” Kerry said Nov. 16. The U.S. is on track, Kerry said, for meeting its targets, including its 2025 pledge to cut emissions up to 28 percent from 2005 levels—“because of the market decisions that are being made,” he said. “I do not believe that can or will be reversed” in the next administration, the secretary said. But if the world fails to ramp up its actions in the coming decades, the consequences will be dire, he said.
“If we fall short, it will be the single greatest instance in modern history of a generation in a time of crisis abdicating responsibility for the future. And it won’t just be a policy failure; because of the nature of this challenge, it will be a moral failure, a betrayal of devastating consequence,” he said.
The U.S. mid-century report warns of “already severe” consequences—heat waves, worsening drought, longer wildfire seasons and more intense and unpredictable weather—from rising global temperatures, which have increased more than 0.8 degree Celsius (1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) over the past century. But if left unchecked, global greenhouse gas emissions are likely to drive temperatures up between 2 degrees Celsius and 5C (3.6F to 9F) with a sea level rise of between two to four feet, the report said. The prospect of a U.S. retreat from climate action has been met by a number of announcements at the Morocco talks from the private sector calling for support of the Paris Agreement.
A Nov. 16 statement, issued by a total of 365 businesses and investors—including more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies—called for continued engagement on the issue. “Implementing the Paris Climate Agreement will enable and encourage businesses and investors to turn the billions of dollars in existing low-carbon investments into the trillions of dollars the world needs” to expand clean energy, according to the statement from companies including DuPont, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the Kellogg Co. and Unilever. “Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk,” it said.
Business and Investors’ Statement on Continuing Engagement on Climate is available at http:lowcarbonusa.org/.
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