Five Nations Control our Climate and Future
The nations of the world concluded the Paris Summit 2015 with global goals and with plans to lower emissions in their individual nations. Five major emitters will control our future by how well or poorly they implement energy efficiency, strong growth of renewable energy, efficient cars, smart mobility, strong protection of forests and sustainable agriculture.
If only the top five emitters successfully implement their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will peak and fall. The worst effects of extreme climate change will likely be avoided. INDCs have been submitted from 189 of the 195 nations attending the summit.
Five Nations that Will Stop Emission Increase
Let’s look at the INDCs of the five nations that most affect our future: China, the United States, India, Brazil and Indonesia.
China emits 29 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. Their INDC targets its carbon intensity to be 60 to 65 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. China is already the world leader in wind power and solar energy. Starting in 2017, China will tax carbon emissions from over 30 thousand sources including coal power, cement production and manufacturing. A carbon price in California has reduced health damaging emissions, accelerated efficiency and renewables, and helped the economy to grow faster than national GDP. In China, a yet to be determined carbon price of 100 yuan ($15.62) per ton would shift the economics from coal power to efficiency and renewables. Coal use has already peaked.
The United States emits 15 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. INDC targets a 26 to 28 percent carbon emission reduction in 2025 compared to 2005 emissions. The United States leads the world in energy efficiency. The buildings that use most of our generated electricity have switched to LED lighting, efficient heating and air conditioning, superior insulation and windows. Hundreds of buildings are zero-net energy. Record numbers of young workers live in cities car-free using smart apps to navigate between transit and Uber. Cleanedge Getting to 100
India emits 7 percent of the world’s carbon emissions and is one of the nations most vulnerable to rising seas and changing monsoon patterns. India targets 40 percent of its electricity generation capacity by 2030 from non-fossil fuels, up from 30 percent today. India plans to install a massive 175 GW of renewables by 2022, but also plans to double coal output by 2020. India targets emission intensity of 33 to 35 percent below 2005 by 2030. India will plant enough trees to absorb 2.5 to 3 billion tons of CO2.
Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, where CO2 is absorbed during photosynthesis, sequesters CO2 thereby slowing global warming. Brazil’s INDC targets GHG emissions 37 percent below 2005 by 2025; 43 percent by 2030. This will be a challenge for Brazil because drying rivers hurt the hydropower that is 66 percent of its electricity. Brazil targets restoring 30 million acres of forest and eliminating illegal deforestation by 2030.
Indonesia is a top emitter of GHG because its forests have been massively slashed and burned, releasing CO2 and methane, for production of palm oil. Over 100,000 fires have been detected this year. Like Brazil, Indonesian rainforests are crucial to our survival. Indonesia’s INDC targets a 29 percent emissions reduction by 2030, protection of 31 million acres of rainforest, and reduction of over a billion tons of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) with international cooperation and financial assistance.
When not considering CO2e from rainforest destruction, there are nations with greater emissions than Brazil and Indonesia including Japan, Korea, and Germany. These nations are steadily reducing their emissions. Russia and Saudi Arabia’s impacts are diminishing as their economies shrink with the falling market for oil and gas. The emissions of all nations matter, some far more than others.
Is the Paris Agreement a Success or Failure?
As you might expect, an agreement acceptable to all nations is less ambitious than the goals of leading organizations, cities and states. For example, while the U.S. Congress insists on massive subsidies for oil and gas and refuses to tax carbon emissions, California’s economy is booming since implementing a carbon tax and is well on the way to 50 percent of its energy being renewable. Many corporations are far ahead of states by using 100 percent renewables including Apple, Unilever, Whole Foods, North Face and Goldman Sachs.
Bottoms-up success is far ahead of top-down planning. Reality is ahead of plans.
Some environmental critics are angry that the Paris agreement is non-binding and INDCs not sufficient to keep global warming below a dangerous 2-degree increase. Their concerns are valid. We need only look at today’s billion people who lack food and water, watch record storm destruction, and the tragic Sixth Extinction. Critics correctly point to $5 trillion of annual subsidies and health damage from burning oil, coal, and methane. Despite the Paris aspirational goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C, we are likely to pass 3 degrees of warming. Yet the commitments leading to and made in Paris create progress.
United States Future of Solar, Wind, Storage
Will the next U.S. president damage this agreement? United States clean energy progress is likely to accelerate should a Democrat be elected. Hillary Clinton stated, “The Paris agreement is testament to America's ability to lead the world in building a clean energy future where no one is left out or left behind…. The next decade of action is critical - because if we do not press forward with driving clean energy growth and cutting carbon pollution across the economy, we will not be able to avoid catastrophic consequences.”
In contrast, leading Republican presidential candidates deny science and vow to undo our target of 26 to 28 percent emissions reduction. A new president can withdraw from the Paris agreement, however a new president cannot stop our progress. It makes no economic sense to replace energy efficient lighting and build with poor insulation. A new president could undermine our joint pledge with China to reduce emissions, yet such sabotage would hurt our global standings without slowing China’s progress. A new president can try to defund some rail and transit, but they cannot stop younger people from preferring to live in cities with efficient mobility. Thirty states will stay committed to more renewables, whomever is elected president.
The next U.S. president will lead, follow, or get out of the way.
More than the president, mayors, governors, senators, corporate and individual choices of homes, buildings, energy, and transportation will determine the future of the United States. By 2025, the United States may well exceed current targets for emission reduction, clean energy and transportation.
The global economy can grow while transitioning to 100-percent renewable energy. Solar, wind, and energy storage technologies are replacing aged fossil-fuel power plants. The cost of solar, wind and storage are rapidly falling. 100 percent Clean Energy Roadmap for 139 Countries (61-page PDF)
There will be winners and losers. Winners and millions of new jobs will occur in efficiency, new buildings, soaring cities and smart mobility; losers and thousands of lost jobs will happen in oil and coal-powered electric utility monopolies.
In 1987, 24 nations agreed to a treaty to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that were destroying our ozone shield. The Montreal Protocol was initially signed by 24 nations, including the United States. Now it has more than 190 signators, and emissions of CFCs have been reduced over 90 percent. The Paris agreement is a major step to a future with less greenhouse gas emissions, more energy efficiency, better transportation, zero net energy buildings, and a massive shift to wind and solar energy.
On April 22, 2016 (Earth Day), global leaders are invited to New York to sign this 2015 Paris Agreement. Likely, that event will lead to further announcements, commitments, and success stories from our leading nations. The Paris Summit was not the final summit, rather an important milestone of progress for humankind.
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