Tomorrow, millions of Americans will be casting their ballots for president, senator, representative and a whole host of other offices. And while the oaths the winners take next year will be largely the same as ever, the political environment they step into will be a brave new world, especially when it comes to climate change.
Why? Because when the subject of climate change came up in previous years, we generally heard vague promises to act at some time in the future. Or excuses that the U.S. couldn't do anything to cut emissions because China wasn't or India wasn't. So when politicians took office, most weren't thinking seriously about climate solutions—and their constituents weren't making them.
This year, the situation is different. Because in 2015, the people of the world did vote on climate, when millions called on their leaders to get serious and reach the Paris agreement. And thanks in part to their effort, that agreement—the world's first universally accepted global climate agreement—which entered into force Nov. 4, giving who ever steps into the Oval Office the framework to cut U.S. emissions in a big way—and the popular mandate to do it.
Regardless of who moves into the White House in January, what should give people everywhere hope is the fact that around the world, the tide is turning. Instead of just standing by and watching temperatures rise and records fall one month after another, more and more politicians are actually doing something. More and more of the countries we heard blamed for driving climate change are now taking real steps to stop it (and thanks to President Obama, that includes the U.S.).
Credit grassroots action—that's people like you—for driving this shift and helping create a climate where more and more officials are willing to stand up and support renewable energy or efficiency mandates or other concrete policy solutions. And when they do, it's critical that we speak up so they know the majority consensus on climate action is there and we're behind them all the way.
Want proof of the shift? Take a look at just a few of the ways leaders and governments around the world are taking action already—and then pledge your support for them!
1. Countries Are on the Right Path
We can't say enough about the importance of the Paris agreement going into effect right now. What we also can't say enough is that this is really just the first step on a longer path to a sustainable future powered by clean energy. There's a lot of work ahead to turn the big commitments in the agreement into focused policy, laws and other initiatives everywhere from utility regulations to fuel economy standards. Then there's the fact that if we're serious about keeping average temperature rise to under 2 degrees Celsius, countries will have to get much more ambitious in their commitments.
While all of these factors are crucial to keep in mind as we think about what's next for the climate movement and our planet, what's also crucial to recognize is the progress we've made. That longer path to a sustainable, clean energy future? Most of the industrialized world is already on it and marching forward, if not as quickly as we need. The result: Developed nations in 2012 had collectively cut emissions by about seven percent compared to 1990 levels. That's not world-changing, but it's not nothing either. And with the Paris agreement going into effect and developing nations increasingly choosing clean energy at every scale from massive wind farms to rural off-grid solar, we're hopeful this progress continues and the figure for global reductions keeps growing.
2. China Is Going Renewable
We hear it a lot from climate deniers in Congress, "Why should we make big cuts? What about China?"
What about China? Well, for starters, the Chinese leadership has invested big in renewable energy. As a matter of fact, it's the world's biggest investor in the stuff. China boasts the most installed renewable energy capacity on Earth and expects to continue increasing their investments in years to come. Then there's the carbon markets the government is introducing on a trial basis to cut pollution in some of the country's biggest cities. Then there's the recent move to ban new coal power plants in order to maximize renewables in some regions.
3. The U.S. is Closing the Door on Dirty Fossil Fuels
Climate change has been a priority for the Obama Administration and on Aug. 3, 2015, the administration released the historic Clean Power Plan. With aggressive goals for reducing carbon pollution from existing power plants, the U.S. is getting serious about closing the door on dirty fossil fuels and making room for renewable energy to thrive. We've already seen forces friendly to the fossil fuel industry challenge the plan in the Supreme Court, underscoring the importance of prioritizing clean energy!
4. Governments at All Levels Are Taking a Stand
All around the world, momentum is growing at state, local and regional levels for implementing clean energy. In Canada, provincial governments are implementing climate action plans. States in India are vying with each other to develop the most solar power. Nineteen countries in Africa have joined forces to fuel sustainable growth and energy security. We could go on and on—and it's inspiring to see.
5. Major Cities Are Leading the Fight on Climate Solutions
Where to begin? Copenhagen: aims to be carbon neutral by 2025. San Francisco: plans to achieve 100 percent renewable energy supply by 2020. Barcelona: requires 60 percent of hot water is generated with solar energy, saving enough energy each year to serve the hot water for 171,000 people. Los Angeles: plans to become coal-free by 2025. These four only scrape the surface—so many more are following in the footsteps of these trailblazers.
6. The Paris Agreement Transforms the Landscape
Perhaps the biggest climate story of the decade: On Dec. 12, 2015, 195 nations adopted the Paris agreement. And since then, 94 parties (representing 65.85 percent of global emissions) have already formally approved this landmark agreement—which has entered into force as of Nov. 4. This framework for action towards long-term emissions reductions and maintaining global temperature rise below 2 C is historic. A surge in political momentum like this, from so many nations at once, gives us hope for a sustainable future.