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The Unnoticed Good News: Climate Action Charges Ahead


Andrew Deutz

The Nature Conservancy’s Director of International Government Relations

July 2016

View from St. James' Park, London. Photo © JenniKate Wallace/Flickr, Creative Commons
View from St. James' Park, London. Photo © JenniKate Wallace/Flickr, Creative Commons

It’s been a tough few weeks in the world, between the dreadful attacks in multiple cities, the continuing political and economic fall-out from Brexit, and the general unseemliness of the U.S. Presidential campaign.

But there were two under-the-radar developments last week in international climate change policy that should give us reason to cheer.

First, in a show of what regional integration and cooperation can do, Canada, Mexico and the United States just committed to generate 50 percent of their electricity from clean sources by 2025. That represents real progress for each country, and signals deepening climate ambition from North America.

To give credit where credit is due, of the three, Mexico was the early mover on climate action. In 2012, the country passed a national law on climate with a target to reduce emissions by 50 percent by 2050. During the lead up to COP21 in Paris, Mexico promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 22 percent by 2030 and up to 36 percent if others act.

The United States also showed early leadership on the international stage when President Obama and President Xi of China announced their Paris Pledges in November 2014, setting the tone for international cooperation for Paris to succeed.

Canada came late to the party. Its Paris Pledge originally was to reduce its emissions by 30 percent by 2005 relative to 2030 but included big offsets in the forestry sector, which would have allowed industrial emissions to actually grow relative to a 1990 baseline. But then the government changed, and Prime Minister Trudeau, one of the political rock stars of the Paris conference, has made climate action one of the defining elements of his leadership.

So now, six months after the celebrations in Paris, the “three amigos” are pledging further, cooperative action on a continental scale to address climate change. This is truly progress to be celebrated.

The second big climate policy story of the week came from the U.K. Yes, the U.K. The U.K. government (and I have to admit, I am not sure who’s actually in charge at this very moment, but credit for this goes to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd) is reportedly about to adopt its Fifth Carbon Budget, with a new target of cutting emissions 57 percent by 2032 relative to 1990 levels.

That’s more ambitious than the overall EU target of 40 percent by 2030, if you’re keeping score at home. That means the U.K. is actually leading most of the rest of Europe on climate policy, and so the rest of the EU countries will have to work a little harder to meet their collective target if the post-Brexit U.K. isn’t included and shouldering an above-average share of the cuts.

I was not anticipating more stringent climate mitigation measures in the remaining EU countries as a consequence of Brexit, but there it is.

Of course, the U.K. will still have to submit its own revised pledge to the U.N. and sort out a bunch of technical and legal issues at home. But now we know where its ambition is headed: in the right direction.

The other impact of Brexit on the Paris Agreement is that the U.K. was scheduled to take over the presidency of the EU in the latter half of 2017 and had signaled its intent to secure EU ratification of the Paris Agreement during its term. Now, someone else is going to have to take on the task of wrangling all of the EU members to agree on their internal plan and formally ratify the agreement, but it will happen.

Both of these announcements—a continental-wide energy target and a new national target in the U.K.—are beacons indicating that policy makers are credibly following through on the goals and aspirations of the Paris Agreement. Both of these targets signal significant transitions in their respective energy sectors, stimulating massive investment and innovation opportunities.

Six months in the rear view mirror, Paris really does look like the turning point to a low carbon, clean energy future that will be more prosperous and healthier.

That’s right. International climate cooperation is the good news story. Again.

Originally Posted on Conservancy Talk

July 05, 2016