Monday, July 18, 2016

A Bright Future, Part I: A Changing Political Climate

By Sage Ertman, Policy Intern

The United States and the world at large have taken some great steps toward a sustainable
energy future. Today’s post will cover some of the good things that have happened recently for U.S. and global energy policy. Over my next two posts I will shed light on some potential setbacks as well as the potential for the U.S. to convert “the energy infrastructures of each of the 50 United States to 100% wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) for all purposes (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, and industry) by 2050.”

Until more recently as the effects of climate change have become more apparent, there wasn’t a unified push to transition toward renewable energy. However, now it seems as though the international community is finally beginning to recognize what we are doing to our planet and what we need to change to fix it. Not only have we seen a tremendous rise in renewable energy development and investment across the globe (both private and public), but the political climate is changing as well. Politicians are now listening to the environmental community and exercising their power to legislate for these necessary changes. The Clean Power Plan, the Paris Agreement, and the North American Leaders’ Summit are a few examples of these efforts at home in the U.S. and abroad.

Clean Power Plan

The Clean Air Act requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate emissions of air pollutants from stationary and mobile sources. Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act regulates existing stationary sources (e.g. power plants) by requiring compliance with standards of performance.The EPA’s Clean Power Plan, finalized only months before the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference, establishes emission guidelines and regulations under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. Specifically, it requires States to develop plans to comply with set emission performance rates by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired electric generating units (EGUs). The EPA estimates that by 2030 the Clean Power Plan will have reduced emissions by 32% (from 2005 levels). However, the future of the Clean Power Plan remains uncertain in light of legal challenges.

COP 21

In late 2015, representatives from most of the world’s countries appeared in Paris for a United Nations conference on climate change (COP 21 for short). Signed by 178 countries (including the US) on April 22, 2016, the Paris Agreement seeks to prevent the rise of the global average temperatures beyond 2°C above pre-industrial levels. While countries agreed to make efforts to limit the temperature increase to 2°C, they also agreed to an additional aspirational goal of limiting the increase to 1.5°C. Never before has there been such a global movement in the name of the environment.
North American Leaders’ Summit

In June 2016, the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. met at the North American Leaders’ Summit in Ottawa, Canada. While clean energy already provides roughly 35% of electricity generation in North America, these leaders set an even more ambitious goal that reaches beyond what the countries agreed to under the Paris Agreement: a 50% target for clean energy generation by 2025. The plan is to institute a series of initiatives that would tighten the energy efficiency standard in the next three years, to research further deployment strategies for renewable energy production across North America, and to reduce fossil fuel subsidies to mitigate carbon emissions.

This platform for transitioning to clean energy is building momentum and seeing much needed global support from politicians, legislators and world leaders. These efforts seem to show that the global community is finally waking up from a blissfully ignorant slumber to improve the quality of not only our lives but also the lives of future generations. Hopefully the global community can come together as a united front in time to fight the consequences of our changing climate.

In my next post, I will discuss a few potential setbacks in U.S. efforts to expand renewable energy policy.

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