Obama Administration taking bold action before Paris climate summit by finalizing Clean Power Plan

This week, the United States Environmental Protection Agency released the finalized Clean Power Plan. This is the first ever regulation on carbon pollution from America's power plants. Under the Plan, the U.S. will reduce carbon pollution from power plants by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. This has been viewed as an ambitious but achievable target. More importantly, the Clean Power Plan demonstrates that the U.S. is embracing a leadership role in the upcoming climate negotiations - and ready to take historic, measurable action at home which helps convince other countries to do the same.

Serious domestic action

The Clean Power Plan is a game-changer in terms of what it will mean for U.S. clean energy development. The final plan was even stronger than the original proposal. It will allow U.S. states to choose their own strategies to reduce carbon pollution, and it provides incentives for early clean energy action before the compliance period begins in 2022. The plan has clean energy as a centerpiece, highlighting the economic benefits of a transformation in the U.S. energy infrastructure. While there is opposition to the Clean Power Plan from some politicians and interest groups, President Obama has said he will veto Congressional attempts to block the Plan, and legal experts have made clear that attacks on the Plan do not have merit.

Engaging with other major economies - a race to the top

In announcing the Clean Power Plan, President Obama called it the "the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change." The Clean Power Plan is one of the key components of U.S. climate action that has significantly shifted opinion abroad about the role of the U.S. in the upcoming climate negotiations.

The finalization of the Clean Power Plan follows on the historic joint announcement by the United States and China from November 2014 to take ambitious climate action, with China agreeing to peak its emissions before the year 2030 and to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20%. In June 2015, President Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff released a statement pledging each country to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, not including hydropower. Brazil also pledged to restore forest land by 2030 for an area about the size of England, and to work harder to prevent illegal deforestation. In January 2015, President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a joint statement to enhance bilateral climate change cooperation in several areas including phasing down the so-called "super greenhouse gases" or hydroflurocarbons (HFCs) through the Montreal Protocol this year, a clean energy research partnership, clean energy finance to support India's ambitious renewable energy targets, air quality cooperation, vehicle standards, resilience modeling, and other areas.

For Canada, which in the past has often harmonized its climate policies with those of the United States, the Clean Power Plan could also be a game-changer in the conversation about carbon pollution and climate leadership. Expanding tar sands oil production in Canada has sent emissions soaring while U.S. emissions have declined in the last several years. Given that public opinion in Canada supports a cap on carbon pollution, the fact that America has finalized its Clean Power Plan gives even greater momentum to a possible halt to tar sands expansion in Canada.

A solid foundation for the Paris climate summit

Fifty countries have already submitted their climate pledges to the UNFCCC ahead of the Paris climate summit in December. These countries account for more than half of total global emissions. The United States, as the second-largest global emitter, has a leading role to play in reversing the course of global emissions. The Clean Power Plan is further evidence that the United States will come to the table in Paris with a pragmatic and achievable set of domestic policies that reduce carbon pollution.

For many years, domestic opposition to strong U.S. climate action stemmed from concerns that global action was needed to make a real difference in climate change. Today, China, India, Brazil and many others are coming to the table with evidence of climate action at home. The finalization of the Clean Power Plan, and many other initiatives under the Obama Administration's Climate Action Plan, signals that the United States is also making real strides in the fight again climate change.