Last December in Paris, leaders from the United States, China, India and more than 180 other countries pledged to shift from the dirty fossil fuels driving global climate change to cleaner, smarter ways to power our future.
This week in San Francisco, energy ministers from around the world gather to help turn the promise of Paris into the progress we need to confront the central environmental challenge of our time.
For the United States, that means building the next generation of energy efficient homes, workplaces and appliances, getting more clean power from the wind and sun, and creating more sustainable transportation options.
California is leading the way, with a commitment to get half its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, to strengthen the efficiency of state buildings and promote electric vehicles. No wonder international leaders sought out Gov. Jerry Brown in Paris for tips on how to jump-start the clean energy revolution.
The stakes have never been higher.
We just wrapped up the hottest April since record-keeping began in 1880. Last year was the hottest on record; 19 of the hottest years ever recorded have occurred in the past two decades. That’s why world leaders have pledged to phase out the use of coal, oil and natural gas and the climate-disrupting carbon pollution from burning those fuels.
We’ve made a strong start, at home and abroad.
We’ve cut U.S. energy use, per dollar of economic output, about 60 percent since 1970. We’re getting more than 5 percent of our electricity from wind and solar power. Both are growing fast, with costs down more than half over just the past five years. And our carbon footprint is 12 percent smaller than its 2007 peak. Globally, clean energy investment hit a record $329 billion last year.
That’s progress we can build on in San Francisco, where U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz hosts his counterparts from China, India, the European Commission and 20 other nations at the annual Clean Energy Ministerial. Together, these nations account for 75 percent of the world’s carbon footprint and 90 percent of clean energy investment.
The energy ministers are focused on big questions: How can we improve efficiency in the billions of air conditioners the world’s developing economies will install over the coming decade? How can we cut energy waste in the world’s shopping centers, offices and industrial plants? How can we increase corporate use of clean, renewable power?
The answers will help determine which countries lead the global shift to cleaner power and whose companies and workers profit most.
We in the United States need to finalize new federal energy efficiency standards for light bulbs and appliances such as furnaces and air conditioners. We must advance policies in California and 35 other states that promote wind and solar power. And we should expand transportation alternatives including public transit, safe bikeways, high-speed rail and other ways to relieve traffic congestion and deliver cleaner air and more protection from the growing dangers of climate change.
Rhea Suh is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.