Proud of what we’ve done, but there’s still more to accomplish

When I founded a new nonprofit organization 15 years ago, the United States and the world urgently needed practical solutions to our energy and climate challenges. That need has only grown more urgent.

Earlier today, I announced my plans to step aside as the President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) once my successor is on board. As I look back, I find we have come a long way. That said, any honest assessment of our progress to date in addressing one of this century’s paramount challenges must conclude that we have much, much further to go.

When our organization, then named the Pew Center for Global Climate Change, first launched in 1998, 63 percent of the world’s electricity generation came from fossil fuels. Incredibly, that number is even higher today – 67 percent. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the main driver of climate change, is also higher than it was then – in fact, at its highest level in more than 2 million years.

Scientists around the globe have just reaffirmed with greater certainty than ever that human activity is warming the planet and threatening to irreversibly alter our climate. Climate change is no longer a future possibility. It is a here-and-now reality. It’s leading to more frequent and intense heat waves, higher sea levels, and more severe droughts, wildfires, and downpours.

We at C2ES have believed from the start that the most effective, efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and spur the innovation needed to achieve a low-carbon economy is to put a price on carbon. It’s a path that a growing number of countries, states, and even cities are taking.

But with the U.S. Congress failing to adopt a comprehensive approach to our energy and climate challenges, and with the global response still lagging, we have had to get creative. We’ve had to find new ways to promote practical approaches that will help both our environment and our economy.

C2ES has been a catalyst for constructive business engagement on these issues, growing our Business Environmental Leadership Council to 34 companies committed to achieving pragmatic climate and energy solutions. Through their actions, these corporate leaders are showing how investments in low-carbon innovation can benefit both the climate and the bottom line.

We’ve found that the concern about climate impacts extends far beyond the scientific community. Our recent Weathering the Storm report found that 90 percent of the Standard and Poors’ Global 100 companies identify extreme weather and climate change as current or future risks to their business.

With Washington slow to respond, we’ve advised states on ways they could take the lead. California has launched a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program that’s the second largest in the world. And the nine Northeast states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative recently strengthened their reduction targets.

Internationally, we’ve convened negotiators from around the world to search for ways to strengthen the climate effort.

We’ve convened a wide range of stakeholders to promote plug-in electric vehicles, carbon capture and storage, and expanded use of natural gas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We’ve joined with business partners to inspire more than 300,000 people to take their own steps to reduce their energy use and carbon footprints through our award-winning Make an Impact program.

And we’ve continued to provide objective analysis to policymakers, which, I’m proud to say, has earned us consistent recognition as one of the top environmental think tanks in the world.

We’ve worked hard and made some progress. But as I said, the path ahead is a steep one. All of us – governments, businesses, and individuals — really need to get moving.

I’m grateful to have benefited all these years from an amazing staff, a supportive board, and engaged partners in the private and nonprofit sectors. But after 15 years as President, it’s time to step aside. I will be staying on during the search for my successor, and, after that, look forward to remaining engaged with C2ES and our climate challenges while undertaking some new pursuits.

Plus, after working so many years to ensure a healthy environment for all of our children and grandchildren, I’m really looking forward to spending more time with my own.