Progress on a multifaceted global challenge like climate change doesn’t happen in one flash of bright light. This can lead to the impression that little is being accomplished, especially when stories highlight areas of disagreement.
Nothing can be further from the truth. In reality, progress is more like the brightening sky before dawn. We saw positive steps in 2014, and they’ll help lay the groundwork for significant climate action in 2015 in the United States and around the world.
In the U.S., we will see the EPA Clean Power Plan finalized and states taking up the challenge to develop innovative policies to reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Allowing governors to do what they do best, innovating at the state level, will be a key achievement of 2015.
Internationally, more countries than ever before will be putting forward new targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions ahead of talks in December in Paris to hammer out a climate pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
In the New Year, we will be building on solid progress made in 2014 by governments, businesses, and individuals. Here are 10 examples:
- The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a Clean Power Plan in 2014 to significantly reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants, the largest source. The proposal’s flexible framework will encourage states to develop innovative policies and will allow them to use market-based mechanisms to achieve results efficiently and cost-effectively.
- States continued to be incubators of innovative policies toward a low-carbon future. Quebec and California successfully completed a joint auction of 34 million greenhouse gas allowances in November, demonstrating the viability of linking market-based programs.
- The U.S. and China jointly announced greenhouse gas reduction targets that will require a significant effort beyond a business-as-usual scenario for both countries. The U.S. set a target of a 26 to 28 percent reduction in emissions by 2025. China, which this year launched a sixth pilot carbon emissions trading program, announced its emissions would peak by no later than 2030 and it would boost its share of zero-carbon energy to 20 percent.
- Carbon capture and storage, a technology we need to increasingly deploy if we are to use coal and natural gas, achieved a significant milestone in 2014 as Canadian electric utility SaskPower started up the world’s first large-scale, coal-fired power plant that captures 90 percent of the carbon emissions it generates. Other new CCS projects will help reduce costs.
- Electric vehicle sales continued to grow, reaching more than 275,000 in the U.S. A number of vehicles came to market, with BMW a major new entrant. Tesla broke ground in Nevada for a $5 billion factory to build batteries. Meanwhile, automakers were off to a good start toward meeting new standards for cars’ fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions.
- New steps were taken to facilitate private sector financing for clean energy projects. New York opened the nation’s largest green bank and funded its first projects. New Jersey launched a $200 million Energy Resilience Bank. And several cities and states started or expanded programs to let building owners finance energy efficiency and clean energy improvements through property tax assessments.
- Renewables, led by wind and solar, made up more than 40 percent of all newly installed power in the U.S. in the first three-quarters of 2014. The U.S. had four straight quarters of more than 1 GW of installed solar capacity. NRG Energy announced plans to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030, and 90 percent by 2050.
- Countries meeting in Lima made progress toward a new climate agreement to be reached in 2015, with some of the broad contours, such as broad participation and individual country contributions, already taking shape.
- Many companies showed climate leadership by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and improving sustainability. More than 1,000 businesses backed a price on carbon. Among them were members of our Business Environmental Leadership Council, including Alstom, Areva, Bayer, BP, Holcim, Johnson Controls, National Grid, PG&E, Rio Tinto and Royal Dutch Shell. At a U.N. Climate Summit, companies also announced efforts to stop tropical deforestation and reduce hydrofluorocarbons and methane emissions.
- Individuals showed they are paying attention to climate change. In September, hundreds of thousands joined the People’s Climate March to draw attention to the need for action. While many other issues are on voters’ minds, most Americans support limiting power plant carbon emissions.
This progress came in a year when the world’s scientists made it increasingly clear that we need to be doing much more. Human activity is a principal cause of climate change and climate impacts — rising sea level, increasing frequency and severity of some types of extreme weather, ocean acidification and changes in species’ habitats — are already occurring. Acting now to reduce emissions, several reports noted, will be more effective and cheaper than actions later – or no action. It’s increasingly clear that doing nothing will be the most expensive path of all.
One company, one state, or one nation can’t solve our climate and energy challenges overnight. What we’re seeing – and what we need to encourage — is progress on multiple fronts by multiple actors.
Taken individually, our actions so far are not solving the climate and greenhouse gas issues we are facing. But they are laying the groundwork for progress from the bottom up as each state innovates to implement the Clean Power Plan and as each nation puts on the table its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Add to that the efforts by cities, companies and individuals to be more sustainable and you see a growing palette of ideas that will continue to build confidence in stronger action leading to the dawn of a clean energy future.