In two weeks officials from nearly every country on Earth will gather at the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris. This is the latest gathering of nations, convened by the U.N., to discuss and potentially agree on a global strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting our planet.
To date, the international community hasn’t been able to act together with the kind of commitment, urgency and ambition that’s needed to confront the climate challenge.
But this time is different.
Countries around the world are closer than ever to consensus on the imperative to act globally. The convergence of attitudes has come by necessity. For all of us, climate change is no longer just an environmental problem—it’s a pressing matter of public health, safety, economics and national security.
In the U.S. rising temperatures are bringing more smog, more asthma and longer allergy seasons—threatening our kids’ health. Extreme storms, fires and floods are putting our farms, businesses and coastlines at risk. In low-lying Bangladesh and the Pacific Islands citizens are retreating from sea level rise. In parts of Africa blistering drought threatens the food supply. Summer sea ice in the Arctic is receding to unprecedented levels.
These impacts can add up to instability over basic resources like food and water, along with very real security threats that can’t be ignored. The world is coming to grips with the reality we face and the consequences of inaction. That evolution will be evident in Paris.
At the same time, since prior COP meetings, we’ve strengthened our scientific understanding of the climate problem even further and designed newer and better technological solutions. Around the world we’re seeing major progress on low-carbon electricity-generation technologies, including renewable energy sources, energy-efficient products and carbon-capture-and-storage techniques.
Here in the U.S. private-sector investors have already committed billions of dollars to scale up clean energy innovation. Every major U.S. automaker now offers electric vehicles. And the average cost of utility-scale solar electric systems has dropped 50 percent since 2010. These are clear signals about where our markets are heading. Clean energy innovation is already being rewarded. And other nations see that. This, too, will be reflected in Paris.
Through our laws and policies the U.S. has shown the world that it is possible to act on climate in ways that protect our citizens’ health and grow the economy at the same time. We’ve set historic fuel economy standards that will send our cars twice as far on a gallon of gasoline by the middle of the next decade—saving American families money at the pump and revitalizing our auto industry. We’ve made investments to cut energy waste in homes, buildings and appliances—steps that will save American consumers billions of dollars.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan has set the U.S. on course to slash carbon pollution from our power sector. This historic step is projected to drive up to $45 billion a year in net climate and health benefits in 2030—including reduced health care costs for some of America’s most vulnerable people. Benefits will include thousands fewer premature deaths and trips to the hospital, tens of thousands of avoided asthma attacks and hundreds of thousands fewer missed school days and missed workdays. In the same year American families will see about $85 in annual savings on their utility bills as a result of greater energy efficiencies, driven by the plan.
Under Pres. Barack Obama’s leadership, the U.S. has already cut total carbon pollution more than any other nation. And in March we submitted an ambitious target to the U.N. to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025. Our strong domestic actions have shown other countries that we are committed to this fight.
We’re not acting alone. Some 150 countries representing more than 85 percent of global carbon emissions—including economies large and small—have submitted long-term pledges. And earlier this month in Dubai leaders from around the world agreed on a 2016 road map to negotiate a phase down of climate-damaging hydrofluorocarbons in an achievable time frame.
In Dubai and elsewhere the U.S. is showing an unprecedented commitment to an agreement. As a global community, we’re in a stronger position than we’ve ever been heading into international climate talks. That’s what’s different.
Countries are acting with a level of urgency and ambition we’ve never seen. Science has given us even greater clarity about how and why Earth’s climate is changing. Technology is empowering us to turn the problem into an economic opportunity. America is leading by example. And many other nations are stepping up as well.
Together, we’ve built the foundation for success in Paris. We have the collective will, tools and proved strategies to get the job done. I’m confident that, this time, countries will reach an ambitious global agreement to protect our common home.
Gina McCarthy is administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. During her 30-year career she has worked at the state and local levels on policies related to economic growth, energy, transportation, health, climate and the environment.