Road to Paris 2015: America’s Clean Power Plan Launch

I am a climate change tourist–an explorer. Welcome to my excursion through the sometimes confusing terrain of climate change initiatives and  international negotiations–a landscape littered with acronyms, numbers, science, international law, and politics.

“No challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate.”

“I believe there is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change.”

“We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”

U.S. President Barack Obama, in Clean Power Plan announcement, Aug. 3, 2015

Will humanity rise to meet the climate change challenge on time?  Do you have hope and if so, what do you pin your hope on?  Listening to the words of the President of the world’s largest economy as he launched the Clean Power Plan last Monday, has given me more hope that  global commitments will be forged when world leaders meet in Paris at COP21 in December.

The Clean Power Plan is the most ambitious American climate action to date. For the first time, the United States government has placed significant limits on carbon emissions from electrical power plants, the source of almost 1/3 of national carbon output.

By the fall of 2016, each state must submit a preliminary plan for reducing power plant emissions by 32% below 2005 levels, by 2030. Carbon output reductions may be achieved a variety of ways including:

  • increasing efficiency of power plants (less pollution for each unit of output);
  • shifting to lower-polluting fossil fuels (use of coal will decrease);
  • increasing use of renewable resources such as wind and solar;
  • promoting energy efficiency for electricity users (reducing emissions by using less power); and
  • market-based programs, such as carbon cap and trade.

In fact, many states, municipalities, and NGOs have already taken some of these steps–now the Clean Power Plan, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, levels out the playing field, making cleaner electrical production a national goal.

Launched on August 3, 2015, the finalized Clean Power Plan has been two years in the making with extensive public consultations.  President Obama foreshadowed the big announcement on the day before with a video: “Memo to America”  and then made the official address the next day presenting, in his words, ‘the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against climate change.’  If you haven’t seen these videos yet and have time, I highly recommend them–the first one is very brief with the President’s voice over compelling images, and the second is an address to the Nation.

Will the new standards inspire new initiatives or will progress be mired in resistance and legal manoeuvrings–is the plan sufficiently bold to have an impact?  These are questions of the hour.  I will tackle these questions in an upcoming post.

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