The All-in Effort to Reach an International Climate Agreement in Paris

Posted by Todd Stern
October 5, 2015
A dome representing the Earth, at France's environment ministry, which hosted a global climate exhibition, in Paris, France, on September 30, 2015 as part of the run up to the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference.

Last week, on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Ministers from the world’s major economies and a range of other nations participated in the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (the “MEF”).

With the UN climate conference in Paris two months away, these meetings are an important opportunity for countries to seek common ground on challenging issues to reach an agreement in which all countries take action to put the world on a pathway toward a low-carbon economy.

Under the leadership of the President, the Obama Administration is making an intensive effort to address climate change. The U.S. Clean Power Plan will cut emissions from the U.S. power sector –- which makes up a third of U.S. emissions -– more than 30 percent by 2030 and save over $50 billion in climate and health-related costs in the process. Fuel efficiency standards will double from 27 to 54 miles per gallon, saving drivers thousands of dollars at the pump. Since 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy has issued more than two dozen efficiency standards for the equipment and appliances that make our buildings run, saving energy equivalent to that used by all U.S. buildings over one year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has now begun to slash wasteful methane emissions from oil and gas by 40 to 45 percent, and is cutting our use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), even as we press for a broader HFC amendment to the Montreal Protocol. 

Our commitment to climate action also goes beyond U.S. borders. The President is making valuable satellite data freely available all over the world to help protect vulnerable countries. He also recently became the first U.S. President to visit the Arctic and witness climate impacts there firsthand. And he has now, in the space of 10 months, issued two highly important Joint Statements on climate change with Chinese President Xi Jinping, reflecting ambitious actions and targets by the United States and China, which confirmed, for the first time, that it is launching a national greenhouse gas emissions trading system in 2017. All of these efforts put us further along the path to reaching a successful international agreement in Paris.

Just before kicking off the MEF last week, I spoke at Climate Week to a group of international climate leaders on what we are trying to achieve in Paris and why it will matter in the effort to combat climate change.

Success in Paris will mark a major development in the global effort to combat climate change. It will provide the first genuinely universal climate regime that is both durable and ambitious.  To truly succeed, the agreement will need countries to work constructively together rather than in opposing camps.

Significantly, as of last week, 146 countries, representing more than 85 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, have come forward with contributions –- called INDCs -– to a global climate agreement. We encourage all remaining countries to submit transparent and ambitious INDCs as soon as possible. Taking these important contributions a step further, a key part of a lasting agreement in Paris is a commitment by countries to submit new emission reduction targets every five years, steadily ramping up ambition and sending a clear signal that there is no turning back as we embark down the necessary path of global deep decarbonization in the course of this century. We also need a strong, unified transparency system so every country can see how others are doing.

We must elevate our focus on building resilient societies and adapting to the impacts of climate change.  We need to work together in a partnership to mobilize capital and investment for low-carbon, climate-resilient development.  And we must build a system that drives us all forward in the battle against climate change, while ensuring every country’s capacity to choose its own path.

Let’s not lose this critical opportunity.  We now have a better opportunity to achieve an historic, universal agreement on climate change that advances America’s interests than we ever have. Last week’s MEF was a positive step on our journey toward success in Paris later this year. So let’s work together and get this done.

About the Author: Todd Stern is the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change.

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