A View from #COP21 in Paris

By Ann Hunter-Pirtle

Last weekend in Paris, negotiators from nearly 200 countries reached a historic, universal climate agreement that had eluded the global community for two decades. I was proud to be at COP-21 helping communicate EPA and U.S. efforts on climate action at the U.S. Center, the State Department’s public diplomacy space at the COP. I had the opportunity to meet attendees from around the world and to hear about global efforts to combat climate change—so I wanted to share a few thoughts from the conference.

The most striking thing about the COP was its size. Forty thousand attendees came from around the world—educators, students, government officials, and non-profit and private sector leaders—so it was held at Le Bourget, best known as the airplane hangar for the Paris air show. The U.S. Center was one of the many pavilions where visitors could learn more during COP21.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTMsCNfXuAE

This short video gives a sense of the scale of the COP21 venue at Le Bourget, outside Paris, France.

The U.S. Center COP21 during an event at Le Bourget, outside Paris, France.

The U.S. Center COP21 during an event at Le Bourget, outside Paris, France.

In the spirit of the event, conference organizers went all-in on sustainability with an extensive biodegradables and recycling program. Participants could return reusable plastic coffee cups for a 1 Euro deposit, and the cups quickly became as good as currency. Participants were spotted scooping up coffee cups from empty tables and desks, returning several at a time.

Reusable coffee cup with the COP21 logo from United Nations Climate Change Conference in Le Bourget, outside Paris, France.

Reusable coffee cup with the COP21 logo from United Nations Climate Change Conference in Le Bourget, outside Paris, France.

Something I didn’t fully appreciate before arriving in Paris was that the COP is a consensus process—so for the negotiations to succeed, all 195 countries had to be in favor of a deal. So the Paris Agreement reflects the threat climate change poses to every nation on Earth, as well as the global community’s determination to do something about it.

The Paris Agreement is ambitious, universal, and durable. Before the negotiations even began, 180 countries, representing more than 95 percent of the climate pollution on Earth, put forward individual pledges to cut carbon pollution.

The Paris Agreement was built from country-level plans, and it states that countries will limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius on average and make efforts to keep it under 1.5 degrees Celsius—levels science tells us will help avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

The agreement calls for transparent reporting and accountability about how nations keep track of carbon emissions. It creates a mechanism for countries to come back to the table every 5 years with increasingly ambitious national carbon pollution reduction pledges, and it includes provisions for financing to developing countries to help them grow their economies with clean energy.

American leadership paved the way for global action. Secretary Kerry spoke in the second week about the need to seize the moment for an ambitious, universal climate agreement, and how U.S. efforts have led the way. EPA’s Clean Power Plan is a centerpiece of U.S. climate efforts, and Administrator McCarthy spoke at the U.S. Center about why she’s confident the rule is built to last.

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at COP21 about the need for countries to seize the opportunity for an ambitious, lasting climate agreement.

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at COP21 about the need for countries to seize the opportunity for an ambitious, lasting climate agreement.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks at the U.S. Center about why the Clean Power Plan will stand the test of time.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks at the U.S. Center about why the Clean Power Plan will stand the test of time.

American businesses are also leading the way. On the first day of the COP after President Obama and other world leaders spoke, Bill Gates and other business leaders launched “Mission Innovation” to develop the next generation of clean technologies. Meanwhile, 154 of the largest U.S. companies including WalMart, AT&T, Coca-Cola, and Facebook, representing 11 million jobs and more than 7 trillion dollars in market capitalization, signed the White House American Business Act on Climate Pledge. Major companies know that climate impacts increase their financial risk, while climate action represents an unprecedented economic opportunity.

That is the real triumph of the Paris Agreement: it sends a global market signal that a low-carbon future is inevitable, and climate-smart investments are not only the right thing to do, but the profitable thing to do.

Despite the size of the COP, climate change is personal. So it was powerful to hear from the following two local leaders at a U.S. Center side event hosted by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

Councilwoman Maija Lukin of Kotzebue, Alaska, and Alson Kelen of the Marshall Islands each explained that climate change threatens their communities’ existence today. Homes in Kotzebue are slowly sinking into the sea as the permafrost underneath thaws and the sea level rises. Traditional food sources—caribou, seals, berries—are disappearing. And thinning ice has made travel dangerous—Councilwoman Lukin lost 2 uncles when they fell through thin ice while traveling to the next town, which doesn’t have a road. In the Marshall Islands, rising sea levels mean just about every time it rains, garbage and sewage wash through communities, making people sick. Warming waters mean fish are disappearing.

Councilwoman Maija Lukin of Kotzebue, Alaska speaks about dwindling sea ice in her region due to climate change.

Councilwoman Maija Lukin of Kotzebue, Alaska speaks about dwindling sea ice in her region due to climate change.

Climate change is threatening our health, our economy, and our national security today. But I am convinced we will meet this challenge, in part because of the incredible will it took from countries around the world to reach the Paris Agreement. Attending the COP was a tremendous opportunity and an experience I’ll never forget—it’ll be a story for the grandkids. Read more about COP-21 here and here.

Blog author Ann Hunter-Pirtle at the entrance of the COP21 venue.

Blog author Ann Hunter-Pirtle at the entrance of the COP21 venue.

About the author: Ann Hunter-Pirtle serves as Speechwriter in EPA’s Office of Public Affairs. Previously, she served as Special Assistant for Land and Water Ecosystems at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She holds an MS in Agricultural Economics and a BA in Political Science and French from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

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Global Climate Action at COP-21

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

This week, I’m proud to be in Paris, where the United States and countries around the world are working toward an ambitious global climate agreement at the 21st Conference of the Parties, also known as COP-21.

Since day one in office, President Obama has recognized that climate change is not just an environmental concern. It’s an urgent matter of public health, our economy, and our security.

And we were reminded by Pope Francis earlier this year that acting on climate isn’t just the smart thing to do, it’s our moral responsibility—for the sake of the world’s poor and vulnerable, and on behalf of our kids and grandkids.

That’s why the work going on here Paris—where hundreds of the world’s nations are coming together and collaborating on a path forward—is so important. The global community has never before been so close to consensus on this issue. A historic agreement is at our fingertips.

Today at the State Department’s U.S. Center at COP-21, I spoke about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) role in this international effort, and how EPA is delivering on President Obama’s climate agenda.

Over the past 7 years, The U.S. has taken a series of ambitious actions to cut the carbon pollution driving climate change, and demonstrate that the U.S. is fulfilling our responsibility to act. All told, the steps we’ve taken under President Obama’s leadership will help the United States reach our national goal of cutting carbon pollution 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

Whether it’s the Department of Agriculture’s “Climate Smart Agriculture” initiative to cut carbon pollution by over 120 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent by 2025, or the several dozen utility-scale renewable energy projects that the Department of Interior has permitted on public lands, or NASA’s cutting-edge scientific efforts to monitor Earth-system changes. The list goes on and on.

A centerpiece of U.S. efforts is EPA’s Clean Power Plan, our historic rule to cut carbon pollution from the power sector, the largest source in the U.S. economy. Our plan puts the United States on track to slash carbon pollution 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. And the cuts to smog and soot that come along with these reductions will lead to major health benefits for kids and families.

And EPA is taking a host of additional steps to push our progress even further. We’re doubling the distance our nation’s cars go on a gallon of gas by 2025. We’ve taken four separate actions to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. We’re acting on climate-damaging Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), domestically, internationally, and through voluntary programs with industry. We set standards for medium-and heavy-duty vehicles and are now going even further with a proposal that will reduce 1 billion tons of emissions.

I’m confident these actions will stand the test of time. Why? Because EPA has a 45-year legacy of finding lasting solutions to difficult environmental problems. In that time, we’ve cut air pollution by 70 percent while our nation’s economy has tripled.
In the U.S., we’re already seeing clean-energy innovations being rewarded. Today, the U.S. uses 3 times more wind power, and 20 times more solar than when President Obama first took office. Jobs in the solar industry are growing faster than in any other sector of our economy—good-paying jobs that grow opportunity in the communities that need it most. Our actions under President Obama’s leadership build on that trajectory.

And we’ve seen time and again the American people are ready to act on climate now. We heard from millions of people on our initial proposal for the Clean Power Plan. We heard from states, utility companies, environmental organizations, and communities across our country. What we heard is that people want to stop talking and start doing. In poll after poll, a majority of Americans say they want climate action. That’s how we know our actions will endure.

But we also know that no country can solve this challenge alone.

That’s why I’m so encouraged by the ambitious commitments we’re seeing from nations around the world. Heading into the COP-21, 180 countries, representing more than 90 percent of greenhouse gas emissions already submitted national plans to reduce their emissions. That’s big.

Here in Paris, our collective efforts are finally aligning. Now is our time.

For the sake of our children and grandchildren, it’s time to come together and do what’s necessary to protect our common home.

Stay up-to-date on U.S. Center events here, and follow my trip on Twitter @GinaEPA.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Climate Week NYC 2015

By Melissa Dimas

NYC residents affected by Superstorm Sandy call for action at last year’s People’s Climate March.

NYC residents affected by Superstorm Sandy call for action at last year’s People’s Climate March.

It is climate week in the U.S. and here in New York City, we are coming up on the first anniversary of the People’s Climate March. Along with 400,000 other concerned citizens from around the world, I lined up along Central Park to show support for lawmakers working to create effective climate change policy, and dismay that all across the globe we have not done enough to combat and adapt to climate change. We need an international agreement; and, we needed about 20 years ago.

People’s Climate March in New York City, September 21, 2014.

People’s Climate March in New York City, September 21, 2014.

For the past decade, and many years before that, climate experts and country negotiators have met for the Conference of Parties (COP) to attempt to come to an agreement, on how as a society, we can collectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Every year, it is two steps forward, one step back, but it is important to remember that we are still moving forward. We have come a long way from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, but here we are, almost 20 years later and no solid agreement.

This year, at the end of November the 21st conference of parties is in Paris. World leaders are attending the COP 21 and there is hope, and momentum, that the world will finally agree to legally binding greenhouse gas emission targets. There are many other critical climate change issues that will be negotiated at the COP 21, and hopefully by the end of the two-week long meeting the world will move three steps forward and never look back.

About the Author: Melissa Dimas works in Region 2 as International Affairs Program Manager. 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.