On August 3rd, President Obama unveiled his administration's Clean Power Plan - the first ever limits on carbon pollution from U.S. power plants - and firmly set the U.S. on a path to tackle climate change through a series of tangible and measureable clean energy solutions. The final rule calls for a 32 percent reduction of power plant carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and gives states ample flexibility in how to achieve their state-specific targets. By 2030, this will be equivalent to eliminating the carbon pollution of 70 percent of the country's passenger vehicles. The Clean Power Plan will have noticeable impacts on the health of people living near these plants. By avoiding 900 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution annually by 2030 it is also good news for people in regions like Latin America where the impacts of climate change are already felt all too clearly. The Clean Power Plan is the type of concrete climate action plan that citizens across the Americas are calling for.
This new plan is the latest in a series of bold climate actions by the Obama Administration that show the U.S. is ready to lead in the global fight against climate change. The U.S. has already announced strong energy efficiency standards, the first ever medium- and heavy-duty vehicle emission standards, and steps to phase down HFCs and control methane emissions -- all elements of an Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) submission pledging a 26-28 percent reduction in overall emissions by 2025.
Further demonstrating the Obama Administration's commitment to climate action is the series of recent announcements with neighbors to the south. This past March the U.S. and Mexico issued a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to jointly addressing climate change and launched a high-level bilateral clean energy and climate policy task force to harmonize their efforts, underscoring the importance of the close ties between the two countries. Later in May, U.S. Energy Secretary Moniz joined his counterparts from Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru and Panama in launching a new Western Hemisphere Clean Energy Initiative through which countries will work to double their renewable energy usage by 2030. Just last month during President Rousseff's visit to Washington, the U.S. and Brazil announced a series of bilateral climate actions to mitigate greenhouse gases and the effects of climate change.
Latin America: gearing up to something big?
As President Obama rightly put it during his remarks, "No challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate." The scale of the challenge requires leadership at the highest level. And just as communities across the U.S. have long called for the government to step up to the challenge, so too are citizens in Latin America expecting their leaders to take resolute action on climate.
Across Latin America, cities and state governments are stepping up to the challenge. In March, mayors from twenty Latin American cities signed the C40 Clean Bus Declaration in Buenos Aires aiming to promote cleaner bus fleets that will reduce emissions and improve air quality. Bogota, Colombia has set a target of reducing its emissions by 20% by 2020 and using cleaner energy sources by 2050. The state governments of Acre, Brazil and Baja California, Chiapas, and Jalisco in Mexico have signed the Under2MOU under which "subnational" states and regions commit to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions 80 to 95% or limit them to 2 mtCO2e per capacity by 2050. In Jalisco the state congress also recently approved a new climate change law.
Yet now is the time for more Latin American leaders at the very highest level to move beyond lofty promises at international forums to ensuring their governments take concrete, tangible actions at home, as Obama did with the Clean Power Plan. Time and time again, Latin American citizens have recognized the real threat climate change poses to public health, the economy and security. A recent Pew Center study revealed that climate change is among the top concerns in Latin America where 61 percent of individuals believe climate change is the region's most direct threat. Yet there is too often a stark disconnect between the level of citizen concern and the response from government leaders. A recent poll in Brazil found that 95% of the public believes that climate change is already impacting people there, yet 85% also feel the government is not doing enough to address the problem.
The stage is set for climate action
President Obama's Clean Power Plan is a game-changer, but meeting the goal of limiting global warming to 2°C will take more than just U.S. action. Countries in Latin America and around the world must also make ambitious climate commitments ahead of the international climate negotiations in Paris.
For the countries in Latin America that have entered into high-level initiatives and working groups on climate and energy with the U.S., the release of the Clean Power Plan should be a signal that they are working with a partner that is serious about climate and clean energy. In the coming months it will be important for these countries to show that they too are just as committed to addressing climate change at home. With most countries in Latin America still finalizing their INDCs,* now is the time for these nations to listen to their citizen's call for concrete climate action and put forth ambitious climate plans that ensure a clean, low-carbon and resilient future for their citizens.
*To date only Mexico has officially submitted it INDC. Colombia, Peru and Chile have released details, but have not yet made official submissions.