A Big Week for Climate Action

Three countries took major steps toward making the Paris climate commitments real.

Global agreements are about turning intentions into commitments--and commitments into action. That's why it's it's so important that China, Canada, and the United States took key steps this week to advance the global climate goals leaders set last December in Paris.

China cuts coal consumption

First came word that China cut its coal consumption for the second year in a row. The world's largest user of coal and largest emitter of the carbon pollution driving climate change, China burned 3.7 percent less coal last year than it did in 2014. In 2014, coal consumption fell 2.9 percent.

The country's economy continued to grow at an official 2015 rate of 6.9 percent. The amount of energy consumed as a share of economic output, though, fell 5.6 percent.

And China led the world in efforts to get more clean power from the wind and sun, investing a record $110.5 billion in renewable power, up 17 percent from 2014 and accounting for a third of the 2015 global investment of $329 billion in clean energy technology. That's important. Carbon pollution from burning coal is the leading contributor to climate change, and China burns about as much of this dirty fuel as the rest of the world combined.

In Paris, China joined the United States, India, Mexico, and more than 180 other countries in putting plans on the table to cut or curb carbon emissions.China committed to peaking its carbon emissions by 2030 -- sooner, if possible -- and to install, by that date, nearly enough wind and solar generating capacity to power the entire United States. This week's news shows the world's most populous country is moving forward on those goals.

The U.S. and Canada join forces

Similarly, the United States and Canada opened a new chapter in their clean energy partnership on Thursday, when President Obama hosted new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a White House summit.

We don't have better friends and allies than the Canadians. We share a border 5,500 miles long. Nearly 400,000 people, along with about $2 billion in goods and services, cross that border every day.

Agreements reached this week between Obama and Trudeau will help the two countries work together to cut the carbon footprint of heavy trucks, passenger aircraft, and power plants; reduce leaks of methane, another powerful greenhouse gas, from both countries' extensive oil and gas operations; and curb releases of yet another strong climate disrupter, the hydrofluorocarbons widely used in refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment.

Both leaders committed to cut methane emissions from oil and gas operations 40 percent to 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. That will require new standards to reduce methane leaks from hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells in both countries. This is an essential part of our climate strategy. These methane leaks are the second-largest industrial source of climate-changing pollution in our country, after our dirty power plants. The Clean Air Act gives the administration the authority, and the responsibility, to protect the public from the urgent and growing dangers this pollution presents. And because air quality doesn't respect international borders, it's important that the United States and Canada work in concert to address this problem together.

Obama and Trudeau also agreed to strengthen protections for Arctic waters and lands, reaffirming earlier commitments to safeguard at least 17 percent of the region's lands and 20 percent of its marine areas by 2020, and pledging to work to do even better than that.

This, too, is essential. Canada and the United States share vast reaches of Arctic waters and lands, including some of the last truly wild places on earth. Canadians and Americans alike share a responsibility to protect this region and all it supports.

Oregon gets serious about clean energy

Finally, Oregon became the first state to mandate an end to electricity produced from coal, putting the state on the road to getting more than 70 percent of its power from carbon-free sources.

Right now, coal provides about a third of Oregon's electricity. Most of that is purchased from out of state. Under legislation signed into law this week, those purchases will be phased out by 2035. The law also calls for the power companies that supply 70 percent of the state's power to get at least half of their electricity from clean energy sources like the wind and sun by 2040. And it includes provisions to help promote the use of electric cars.

Already, hydroelectric dams supply about 40 percent of the state's power. Twinning that with the renewable mandates spelled out in the new law means that Oregon is on track to get between 70 percent and 90 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources within the next 25 years. That's progress.

Oregon is hardly alone. By 2020, investor-owned power companies in Colorado must produce 30 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. Minnesota is requiring its investor-owned utilities to get 26 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025.

California and New York have gone even further, with plans to get half of their electricity from wind, solar, and other renewable sources by 2030. Similar renewable standards are already in place in Texas, Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, Arizona, and 16 other states around the country.

We reached a historic turning point in Paris. The real point, though, is action, exactly the kind we've seen this week.


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