From rising seas across the globe and the melting of Greenland’s sheet ice to the bleaching of coral reefs around many coasts and changing rainfall patterns in Malawi, the signs of climate change are all around us. As a global society, we are at a critical juncture where our decisions today will help shape the climate our children and our children’s children will be born into.
But this is not just about the future. There are immediate benefits to keeping pollutants out of our environment: cleaner air, lower energy costs, and new growth industries.
These are the stakes at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris, where representatives from Malawi and almost 200 other nations have gathered from today November 30 to December 11 to negotiate a comprehensive climate agreement for the post-2020 world.
Now more than ever, there is social and political will to do something about the rise in global temperatures and its ripple effect through the environment. More than 160 countries, responsible for around 90 percent of global emissions, including the United States and Malawi, have announced climate targets ahead of the conference.
This is a clear step forward and a departure from the past. As a reference point, only about 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions were addressed under the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.
The United States is taking bold action on climate change at home as we work with partner nations to do the same. Since President Barack Obama took office, the United States has reduced carbon emissions, tripled domestic wind energy production, and increased solar power twenty fold. We have put in place stringent new fuel economy standards so that our cars are using less gas, energy use is more efficient, and an historic amount of land and water has been protected for future generations.
At the same time, the US economy has expanded, proving that growth is not inextricably linked to carbon output.
Going forward, the Clean Power Plan will cut emissions from the US power sector –which makes up a third of the nation’s carbon emissions—by 32 percent by 2030 and will save more than $50 billion in climate and health-related costs in the process.
With countries like China, India, and Brazil now pledging to reduce emissions, we have a serious chance to put in place a transformative plan. In Paris, we will pursue an effective agreement that continues to drive ambitious climate action by all countries, while recognising the differences among them.
It should provide a long-term framework – with high standards of transparency and accountability – that calls on nations to ratchet up their targets over time. And it must provide countries in need, like Malawi, with financial and technical support for low-carbon development and adaptation to a changing climate.
Cities, businesses, and individuals all play critical roles in turning climate policy into action. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is spearheading the C40 effort that links megacities in proactive steps to tackle climate change. More than 80 companies, including Alcoa, Coca-Cola, and Wal-Mart have signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, committing to actions such as investing in renewable energy and reducing waste. Individuals make choices every day, from the cook stoves they use to the way they get to work, that have a huge cumulative impact.
We welcome Malawi’s leadership among African countries in the negotiations on issues related to agriculture and forestry. Around 80 percent of Malawi’s greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation and forest degradation, due in large part to the reliance of more than 95 percent of Malawians on primarily biomass energy for cooking fuel. We applaud the government of Malawi’s adoption of the National Action Plan for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation+ (REDD+) and are proud of the support the US government is providing for its implementation.
With leaders and representatives from almost every nation on earth convening in Paris, there is an historic opportunity to strike a far-reaching and durable climate agreement. We have the political will and groundswell of social support to make it work, but we will need to come together and be pragmatic in order to reach a deal. For brighter skies today and a more secure tomorrow, now is the time to act.
The author is Chargé d’Affaires,at the Embassy of the United States of America in Lilongwe, Malawi.
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