2015 may well prove the warmest year globally on record, but it also saw unprecedented momentum on climate solutions – most notably, the completion of the U.S. Clean Power Plan and a landmark global climate agreement in Paris.
These two successes reflect growing public support globally and in the United States for stronger climate action, as well as rising investment and innovation by business toward low-carbon solutions.
Now we must turn the momentum of last year’s successes toward the next set of challenges – like putting these major new policies into action.
Here in the U.S., states have until September to tell the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) how they plan to implement the Clean Power Plan (or to request more time). Most observers think the courts are unlikely to block the Clean Power Plan while legal challenges are heard. So we expect state planning will proceed and are encouraged to see so many states exploring market-based approaches.
Internationally, countries must now put the Paris agreement into place. A high-level signing ceremony is set for Earth Day (April 22) in New York. And in May, governments will begin fleshing out details of the new Paris architecture, including critical transparency provisions and the process to periodically strengthen countries’ individual contributions.
Just after Paris, the United States submitted its latest biennial report, showing how current policies can put the country on track for its 2020 target (reducing emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels), and lay the foundation for meeting the 2025 target (reducing emissions 26-28 percent). The report showed that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have declined 10 percent since 2005, while GDP is up 10 percent. For the first time, GDP has grown while energy use has fallen – about 2 percent.
Here are other things to watch for domestically and internationally in 2016:
Strong growth in U.S. wind and solar power. Improving technologies, dropping prices, and growing investment have been spurring a renewables boom. U.S. wind capacity has doubled and solar capacity has increased more than tenfold over the past six years. Together, the Clean Power Plan and a new five-year extension of production tax credits for wind and solar should further accelerate development.
Action to curb methane emissions. Federal regulations and incentive-based programs to curb leaks of methane from oil and gas operations are expected to be finalized this year. Methane is much more potent than carbon dioxide, but stays in the atmosphere a much shorter time, meaning action to reduce leaks can have a more immediate benefit. How EPA, states, and industry (both upstream producers and downstream users) work together to address this important issue will be crucial in 2016.
Checking in on fuel efficiency. This year, EPA will formally adopt new regulations aimed at cutting emissions from medium- and heavy-duty trucks. And an upcoming technical assessment will indicate how EPA is viewing progress toward the goal of nearly doubling light duty vehicle fuel efficiency to 54 miles per gallon from 2011 levels and cutting carbon emissions from new cars nearly in half by 2025. The auto industry is soaring, with sales at an all-time high and new technologies resulting in lighter vehicles and more low- or zero-emission choices.
Reducing hydrofluorocarbons. This could be the year we finally get a handle on the fastest-growing family of greenhouse gases – extremely potent hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigeration, air conditioning, and foam blowing. In the U.S., new EPA rules and commitments by companies like Dow Chemical and Coca Cola have demonstrated the feasibility of shifting to alternatives. Now we’re looking to nations this year to adopt an amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which successfully tackled ozone-depleting chemicals, to phase down the use of HFCs.
Addressing airplane emissions. Aviation makes up about 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions but is one of the fastest growing sources. If global aviation were a country, it would rank as the seventh largest carbon dioxide emitter. The United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a global forum to develop standards for the industry, is expected to adopt a package of policies to meet the sector’s targets of carbon-neutral growth after 2020, and cutting emissions in half by 2050.
Another key development last year was the surge of cities and businesses making significant commitments to climate action. More than 400 cities globally have committed to measure and reduce their emissions. More than 150 companies signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge and committed to steps such as cutting emissions, reducing water usage, and using more renewable energy. 2016 will be the year these commitments begin to be demonstrated on the ground.
Whether it’s paving the way for the rapid development of renewables or investing in energy efficiency technology and lower carbon electricity a huge wave of innovation has been unleashed. This momentum must be used as a springboard for more and even faster progress in 2016.