Ken Berlin is the president and CEO of The Climate Reality Project. Ken has devoted his career to leadership on environment, energy and climate change issues.
For decades, Earth Day has served as a global rallying cry for a cleaner, healthier planet. It's a symbolic day but only one day in a 365-day movement. But this Earth Day is different. Today we have renewed hope as leaders from almost 170 countries formally signed the Paris agreement created at last December's COP 21 climate conference. The agreement commits countries to a series of pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions and other steps with the goal of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius (with efforts to aim for 1.5 degrees). It isn't victory, but a hopeful sign that the international community is committed to get there.
There have been global climate agreements before, but nothing with this extraordinary reach, ambition and international backing. It sends a clear message that finally, as a planet, we're serious about moving away from the dirty fossil fuels slowly destroying our planet and finally stopping climate change.
After many hard fought fights, wins, losses, optimistic moments mixed with disappointing setbacks, the climate action movement has had its fair share of ups and downs which only makes this moment more remarkable. I was awestruck by the unanimous view among all the world's leaders who were present that they have to take significant steps now to address climate change and by the fact that there was no climate denial expressed by anyone. It brought me back to the lead up to the Paris negotiations when millions of individuals, businesses and NGOs across the globe demanded their leaders do what's required to protect our planet. If you weren't at the UN ceremony, I can say that the world's leaders will be working together to protect your future.
With the Paris agreement coming into force and countries actively cutting emissions and turning to clean, renewable energy, we have both the framework we need to stop climate change and the tools to do it. Already, we can see how the agreement has transformed perspectives all around the world and spurred countries, companies, and citizens to get to work even before it's been formally signed. In just the four months since negotiators reached the agreement, Copenhagen announced plans to divest from fossil fuels, while the influential Rockefeller Family Fund began to do the same. Norway banned more than 50 firms from its sovereign wealth fund. New York State announced plans to go coal-free by 2020 while JP Morgan halted funding new coal mines. Investment in renewables reached levels double that of coal and gas.
The list goes on and on and reaches into nearly every sector. And it tells you that the world is changing in profound ways.
So let's savor this moment. Know that today, you're experiencing history in the making. Today on Earth Day, let yourself believe that finally solving climate change is possible—because, thanks to the Paris agreement, it is. Imagine a world powered by renewable energy and know that while we won't get there tomorrow, we will get there.
Tomorrow, however, it's time to act. There is real and hard work ahead of us to implement the Paris Agreement in every country that signs it and the fossil fuel industry and its powerful allies have no intention of going gently into that good night. Witness, for example, the current action against the Clean Power Plan here in the U.S. brought forward by two dozen state attorneys general. Plus, we need to make the commitments to cutting emissions now in the agreement even more ambitious if we're going to keep warming below 2 degrees.
But also know that increasingly, millions and millions of people on every continent are waking up not just to the threat climate change poses to the future of our precious planet, but also to the reality we can solve it. They're speaking up for change with a voice so loud and strong that politicians can simply no longer afford to ignore it.
And more than anything, more than any meeting of politicians, more than any agreement, that simple fact gives us hope.
Let world leaders know you support the Paris agreement—and your president, prime minister or representative know you're ready to get to work to implement it at home by signing our petition today.
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Yesterday during the first official visit by a Canadian Prime Minister to the U.S. in 19 years, the two countries made a historic and precedent-setting announcement to curb methane emissions. In addition to pledging cooperation on implementing their emissions reduction commitments under the Paris agreement, advancing clean energy and preserving the Arctic, the two North American countries both committed to cutting methane emissions from their oil and gas sectors by 40-45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025 and to explore additional avenues for reducing methane emissions.
While at first glance this announcement may seem to have a particularly niche focus, it is critically important to helping solve the climate crisis in three key ways:
1. The Announcement Demonstrates Continued Momentum for Internationally Agreed-Upon Climate Action
Last December, a year of bilateral announcements and national emissions reduction commitments culminated in the Paris agreement, where the entire global community made a historic agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. It was an exhilarating moment—but now countries around the world must turn their attention to the hard work of implementing their plans and increasing the ambition of their commitments over time.
This agreement between the U.S. and Canada is exactly the kind of inspiring, additive action we need to continue the momentum from Paris. The more joint announcements, the more ambition can be increased, the more countries expand their actions to include global warming emissions beyond carbon dioxide, the greater our chances become of winning the climate fight.
2. The New Plan Expands Upon Existing U.S. Enivornmental Protection Agency (EPA) Safeguards on Methane
Although carbon dioxide is the global warming pollutant with which most people are familiar, methane is nevertheless a highly potent greenhouse gas that, according to Environmental Defense Fund is responsible for about a quarter of today's global warming. The U.S. and Canada are among the top five largest emitters of oil and gas-sector methane in the world. And in the U.S. alone, oil and gas operations leak enough methane to power millions of homes.
The U.S. EPA was already in the process of developing new rules to limit methane emissions from new oil and gas operations. The U.S. and Canada's announcement sets into motion a process for the EPA to not only look at new facilities, but to take action on existing sources of methane as well.
3. Canada's National Government is Echoing the Will of Its People and Provinces
There is a reason we held a Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Toronto last year: Canada is a crucial player in the climate fight. In recent years, the country seemed to be on the wrong track at the national level, backing away from any leadership role on climate change. But courageous regional leaders like Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and local activists like our Canadian Climate Reality Leaders continued calling for stronger climate action as Alberta, traditionally a fossil fuel stronghold, elected a government that unveiled a plan for both an economy-wide carbon tax and a cap on pollution from oil sands last November. Today, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the national government has chartered a new course on climate action that better reflects the will of its people and regional leaders.
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2015 is shaping up to be the year when the world takes action on the global climate crisis. Business leaders, non-profit organizations, NGOs, national governments and citizens all over the world are mobilizing in the lead-up to December's United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris (COP21), where we hope national leaders will sign a strong emissions reductions agreement.
The Paris negotiations represent a critical opportunity for the international community to take a bold step forward to halt climate change. At The Climate Reality Project we believe COP21 is our best chance yet to secure a strong international agreement that includes meaningful emissions reductions commitments based on national circumstances, a system of periodic review for these commitments and a long-term goal of net zero carbon emissions.
To harness this global momentum towards COP21, The Climate Reality Project recently launched its Road to Paris campaign. The campaign focuses on garnering public support from the international community and citizens in eight key countries that are strategically significant for COP21: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Philippines, South Africa and the U.S.
In each of these countries, The Climate Reality Project's Road to Paris campaign will build on the work we've already undertaken, including training new members of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps and activating local branches, which will employ social/digital earned media tactics to educate and mobilize communities, hold events, and offer practical suggestions for grassroots action people can take to support and strengthen the commitments their national governments have made. Our partnership with Live Earth: Road to Paris will also play a significant role in the campaign and serve as a rallying point for in-country programs this summer.
So what does the Road to Paris look like on the ground?
In the U.S., our Road to Paris campaign will foster public support for the climate efforts already underway—most notably the United States' initial commitment for the COP21 negotiations and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan—and train a new cadre of Climate Reality Leaders.
To take a step back, the United Nations has called for each country to submit an initial commitment—officially called an intended nationally determined contribution (INDC)—for reducing carbon emissions domestically. Countries around the world have waited to see if the United States would make good on President Obama's own calls for climate action. At the end of March, the country did just that, committing for the first time to reducing carbon pollution based on real world targets with real world policies, by announcing an INDC that would reduce national greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
The U.S. plans to accomplish this largely through existing policies like fuel economy standards for vehicles and the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever national standard that would limit emissions from existing power plants. This proposed rule is significant for the United States because 40 percent of the U.S. carbon pollution that drives climate disruption comes from power plants—the rule would cut emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, making it the largest single action that the United States has taken to address climate change.
Our goal with the Road to Paris campaign is to help provide the political and social support for the commitment the U.S. has already announced, helping to provide a bold example to encourage other countries around the world to commit to their own strong national plans. Through these efforts, we can build a powerful movement for change at COP21.
And while this year is meaningful in the context of the year-end negotiations, the Road to Paris won't end at the conclusion of COP21. Beyond December, climate change will continue to be a critical issue for countries all over the world. Particularly in the U.S., it is increasingly something that voters care about—a recent national poll of registered voters in the U.S. showed that a majority of voters favor candidates who will take action to fight climate change.
For exactly this reason, the Road to Paris campaign in the U.S. includes a Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, this May. The training will not only help to empower the great work of community leaders on the ground there, but will also capture Iowa's unique political significance—as the first caucus state, Iowa's voters will help determine the issues and candidates that will feature in the presidential race for the next 18 months.
The Iowa training—which will take community leaders and equip them with the knowledge and tools to communicate effectively around climate change—is one of two trainings in the U.S. this year—the other will take place in Miami, Florida in September.
As we look ahead to COP21 and beyond, we must hold leaders of all political parties and at all levels accountable for taking action to combat the largest threat the world has ever faced. We have the solutions to solve the climate crisis and—as the Road to Paris campaign shows—the international community is beginning to take action. Now we must work together to mobilize individuals, organizations and leaders to build the momentum we need to stop global climate change altogether.
Note that a version of this article appears in the May issue of Formiche.
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Last week, the U.S. took an important step forward and joined the European Union, Mexico and others in announcing a national commitment for reducing carbon emissions. Of course, with the climate negotiations happening in Paris at the end of the year, this national commitment is extremely important in demonstrating to the international community that the U.S. is serious about solving climate change.
But here at home, climate change is also becoming an increasingly hot-button issue. Recent antics like Senator Inhofe’s throwing a snowball on the Senate floor to “disprove” climate change and the series of Senate votes to establish that climate change is not a hoax indicate that politicians can no longer evade questions as to their positions on climate change. Just last week, a national poll of registered voters in the U.S. showed that 58 percent of voters favor candidates who will take action to fight climate change.
It is critical that we hold our leaders of all political parties and at all levels accountable for taking action to combat the largest threat the world has ever faced. We have the solutions to solve the climate crisis and the international community is beginning to take action—now it is a question of mobilizing individuals, organizations and leaders here in the U.S. to take urgent action.
The good news is that community leaders across the U.S. are already taking up the cause and implementing solutions. At The Climate Reality Project, we seek to find those individuals and equip them with the knowledge, tools and drive to communicate effectively and activate their communities on what can be done to solve the climate crisis.
It is for this reason that we’re bringing our highly effective international Climate Reality Leadership Corps program back to the U.S.—our 28th training will take place May 5-7 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
At the training, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and I will join scientists, strategists, organizers and technical specialists to discuss the science of climate change, the direct cost climate impacts are having on communities around the world and solutions available to solve the climate crisis.
Iowa, of course, holds unique political significance—as the first caucus state, Iowa’s voters will help determine the issues and candidates that will feature in the presidential race for the next 18 months.
Additionally, increasingly extreme weather, exacerbated by climate change—including heat waves, drought and flooding—will have major negative implications for Iowa’s extensive agricultural production.
Finally, climate change may hold serious health consequences for the people of Iowa—the Natural Resource Defense Council estimates that more than 240,000 people in Iowa suffer from asthma, a condition that may worsen as climate change causes air quality to deteriorate.
In Iowa next month, the training will not only explore these negative impacts of climate change, but will also focus on the solutions at hand, building on Iowa’s strong history of supporting renewable energy.
What You Can Do
We’re looking for those passionate individuals from all political parties and backgrounds to join us in Iowa and help demonstrate to our leaders that Americans want climate action today. Our Climate Reality Leaders are critical to bringing together climate voices to call for national climate policies that will have an impact globally.
We hope to see you there.
Applications open now to be trained in Iowa by former Vice President Al Gore and other experts to become a Climate Reality Leader. This is the first of three North American trainings to be held in 2015, with others to follow in Toronto and Miami.
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Earlier this month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for India to continue to be a leader in international conversations on climate change. Next week, U.S. President Obama will travel to India to meet with Indian Prime Minister Modi, where he will likely explore how the two countries might collaborate on climate change efforts in advance of the much-anticipated UN climate talks taking place in Paris at the end of the year.
This focus on India highlights the pivotal role the country will likely play leading up to the negotiations: despite the fact that India has not historically generated high per-capita carbon emissions, the country’s massive population and rapid economic growth mean the country’s development path will have environmental consequences both for India’s citizens and the rest of the world.
And as energy demands rise, India faces the singular difficulty of continuing to promote its impressive economic growth and raising its people out of poverty, while simultaneously playing a critical role in avoiding the worst effects of climate change, which—if unchecked—would put more than 60 percent of its citizens at grave risk.
The good news is that India is already taking important steps toward sustainable economic growth. India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change includes measures to increase energy efficiency and install significant solar capacity in the near-term (100 gigawatt by 2022), helping to meet its goal to double its total renewable capacity by 2017, all while reducing the country’s carbon intensity by 20-25 percent by 2020. These efforts demonstrate that India is taking the threat of climate change and the promise of renewable energy expansion seriously, which is an important step forward on the Road to Paris.
Yet there is far more to the Indian climate story than the Indian government’s efforts leading up to the international negotiations. There are more than one billion people living in India, many of whom are not waiting for international debates in order to take action on climate at a community level.
It is the energy from these types of community activism and engagement projects that we at Climate Reality look forward to seeing next month when we host the 27th Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training in New Delhi (Feb. 22-24). There, we will convene scientists, decision makers, leading businesses and representatives from all sectors of Indian society to equip them to understand climate change and its solutions, communicate effectively about climate change and organize their networks towards action.
This training is part of our goal to help give community leaders all over the world the tools they need to effect change in their networks. Through these trainings, we have met inspiring activists and trained more than 7,000 Climate Reality Leaders from more than 100 countries.
Will you be the next?
To become a Climate Leader by attending the training in India, apply to attend by Jan. 30.
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In the run-up to the COP20 climate negotiations happening right now here in Lima, the world has seen some major developments for international climate agreements. While countries do not have to make public their national greenhouse gas reductions commitments until March of next year, major players including the U.S., China, the United Kingdom and Japan are already making bold agreements about what they will do.
In the last few weeks alone, the U.S. and China announced a landmark climate deal outlining new commitments by each of the countries, while several countries—including the U.S., the United Kingdom and Japan—made large financial commitments to the Green Climate Fund, which will help less affluent countries fight climate change.
This is an exciting time for the climate, and especially exciting to watch the conversations on the ground here in Lima.
With all of these commitments and goals, the natural question arises: how will countries meet these ambitious goals?
The good news is that the decades of international inaction did not forestall climate action on a local scale, and success stories abound even in countries that have yet to make international commitments. Earlier this year, we featured some of these success stories during our 24 Hours of Reality: 24 Reasons for Hope broadcast, but I want to share them again here.
Though Australia has remained cool on climate commitments, an organization called Cool Australia is challenging young Australians across the nation to take positive climate action.
Field Report - Cool Australia:
In order to achieve its recently-announced goal of peaking CO2 emissions by 2030, China must expand its share of non-fossil fuel energy to around 20 percent. The good news, is that China is already embarking on an ambitious plan to expand its wind power.
Field Report – China’s Wind Quest:
While the world waits for a commitment from India, the world’s second most populous nation, the Barefoot College program is already harnessing human potential along with the sun to improve millions of impoverished lives.
Field Report - Barefoot College:
Also in India, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is working to improve the lives of the nearly three billion people who rely on wood- or coal-powered open cookstoves, while reducing carbon pollution along the way.
Field Report – Cleaning up the Cookstove:
As a nation, Mexico has made financial commitments to the Green Climate Fund. At the same time, though, people in the country are battling recurrent drought and heat trying to protect chocolate, which is threatened by climate change.
Field Report – Mexican Cocoa:
The Philippines has begun accounting for climate change in its national budget. But on a local scale, the island of Sibuyan has recently converted its energy mix to 90 percent renewable, and they’re eager to share their success.
Field Report – At River Camp in the Philippines:
In just 10 years, South Africa became a leading wind power producer in Africa, creating one of the fastest and most high-tech energy revolutions in the world. Yet the country still struggles to utilize renewable energy in the face of an abundant coal supply.
Field Report – A Clean Wind Blows in South Africa:
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On Sept. 23, the world will gather in New York City at the UN Climate Summit for what Selwin Hart, director of the U.N. climate team under Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon calls “a major turning point in the way the world is approaching climate change."
Although climate impacts are already being felt around the world, young people today are the ones most vulnerable to a changing climate. That’s why a few weeks ago, The Climate Reality Project challenged youth across the world to question the status quo on climate change and ask their leaders “Why? Why Not?” questions.
Questions like “Why are you not taking climate change seriously? Why not embrace actions that will lead to a future powered by affordable, clean renewable energy?” Young adults from all nationalities and backgrounds logged on to YouTube to submit recordings sharing their perspective on climate change and disbelief that more was not being done.
We received thousands of responses from 87 different countries in a matter of weeks. It was an overwhelming demonstration of millennials rising up to share their voice on this global issue so critical to their future. Our next generation of leaders, inventors, teacher and activists understand while they have their lives ahead of them, we do not have time to waste.
I am excited to announce that eight young adults have been selected to represent their generation at the UN Climate Summit on Tuesday, and give a voice to millennials in the conversation around climate change. Check out their submissions below and listen carefully–they are the questions we should all be asking ourselves.
The winners include: Rajashree Agrawal, India; Saatvik Chandra Jha, India; Jeckree Mission, Philippines; Pato Kelesitse, Botswana; Yu Hung, Australia; Matthew Stamper, USA; João Pedro Eboli, Brazil; and Amy Farrer, UK (Honorable Mention).
Rajashree Agrawal, India:
Saatvik Chandra Jha, India:
Jeckree Mission, Philippines:
Pato Kelesitse, Botswana:
Yu Hung, Australia:
Matthew Stamper, USA:
João Pedro Eboli, Brazil:
Amy Farrer, UK (Honorable Mention):
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