Friday, November 13, 2015

Political Changes Signal the Dawn of a New Day for Climate Action

People are calling for change and governments around the world are responding. Part of this effort derives from a committed new form of grassroots activism that is demanding climate action.  It is fair to say that in 2015, after decades of effort we have finally reached a turning point in the history of efforts to combat climate change. This change is not a moment too soon as we ebb every closer to COP21 and the expected global climate agreement.

A change in political leadership in both Canada and Australia is a hopeful sign ahead of COP21. The political change in these two countries are important because the leaderships of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott both had fossil fuel focused policy agendas. Now that they are no longer in power, there is reason to hope for more responsible climate governance from these two countries. Prior to these changes, these two leaders failed to reduce their country's greenhouse gas emissions and they both impeded progress at global climate talks.

In Canada climate change emerged as a real political issue in the federal election of 2015 and the leadership of new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offers reason to believe we will see real change

US President Barack Obama is now leading the world in climate action. The importance of US leadership cannot be overstated. As part of his efforts to manage the financial crisis that he inherited in 2009 he made sizable investments in renewable energy. The incentives included in the Recovery and Reinvestment Act helped to dramatically lower the costs of clean energy. More recently he has launched some new initiatives in support of renewables.

In his second term, the President is making climate action the centerpiece of his policy agenda. The President reasserted his commitment to climate action in his 2013 inaugural address and his post-election State of the Union address. However, his ambitious vision became clear in his historic Georgetown speech in which he laid the foundation for his climate action plan.

Through the Environmental Protection Agency, President Obama is reigning in emissions from power plants with his Clean Power Plan. He has previously raised fuel efficiency standards for US cars and trucks. In response to Republican obstructionism, the President is also using his executive authority and executive orders to execute his climate plan.

"[I]n spite of the continued release of 90 million tons of global warming pollution every day into the atmosphere, as if it’s an open sewer, we are now seeing the approach of a global political tipping point." Al Gore said. "We are seeing dramatic progress towards new policies in China, Korea, Ireland. We’ve seen a coal tax in India. We’ve seen changes in Australia, the largest coal producing nation. We’ve seen Mexico take a leadership position. We’ve seen action in California and other states. And some 17 other countries are in various stages of adopting either a cap and trade or carbon tax or both."

Gore says the combination of extreme weather and declines in the cost of clean energy, "is pushing us over this political tipping point and the trend is unstoppable."

As explored in an EDF article titled, "A tipping point in the politics of climate change" our politics are changing. There was a time when politicians who mentioned climate change inspired angry vitriol, but as explained in the article, that is changing. "Today, politicians no longer risk facing anger for daring to act on climate change, but for ignoring it."

Climate denial is at an all time low in the US and as reported in the EDF article, more than 80 percent of voters under 35 want climate action. Despite the ongoing opposition from Republicans the mood in America is changing:
"Underneath it you can feel the tipping point…tip. Standing up to say climate change is a hoax, or a minor problem to be ignored, is now the province of candidates seeking support from a vocal minority of more ideological voters. Candidates in competitive general election races are loath to be labeled climate deniers – for fear of looking silly or out of the mainstream. None of this means the fight is over. Climate change, which should be a scientific matter, is still wrapped around the axle of partisan politics – and unwinding it will take time. But the shift in the political landscape is clear."
Most political parties agree that a strong treaty is required in Paris This political change is not only happening in the U.S. As stated in a Guardian article:
"Political will has arrived: the 196 countries in the UN negotiations are committed to achieving an ambitious global climate agreement. There is remarkable leadership from many countries, best seen through the 146 national climate plans put forward by nations covering more than 86% of emissions. This is the beginning of a blueprint for our future."
As stated in a more recent EDF article:
"2015 is the year when we can truly say that our national energy landscape began to change in tandem with climate awareness. So much so that even some lawmakers who resisted change may now be reaching a tipping point."
"[T]he political climate is changing" Al Gore said. "We’re winning that conversation."

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