July was the hottest month—ever. The average global temperature was the highest it’s been since recordkeeping started in 1880. And we’re on track for 2015 to be the hottest year ever recorded.
Last week, President Barack Obama visited Alaska, the “front lines” of battling climate change, to showcase how residents are already grappling with the impacts of rising temperatures. “What’s happening in Alaska is our wake-up call. The alarm bells are ringing,” Obama said.
It could be argued that the alarm bells have been ringing for some time now. But this year may be different. As the signs of climate change gain more and more attention, work is being done across the globe and here in the U.S. to reach a significant international climate agreement.
This week, representatives from more than 190 nations met in Bonn, Germany to hammer out the details of an international climate agreement ahead of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP-21) in Paris, scheduled for December. Robert Orr, a former climate adviser to United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said in an interview that the negotiations in Bonn are “critical to ensure a lot of the key issues get resolved—not all of them, but a lot of the key issues.” At the center of the agreement will be significant emissions reductions and financing.
As of the end of August, more than 50 countries representing 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions had submitted national climate plans as part of the process, according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This amount includes 95 percent of developed countries, such as the United States.
With just a few months until COP-21, the President’s trip to Alaska was part of an 11-day “climate tour” to bring attention to climate change and tout some of the administration’s recent initiatives. Here are a few the administration announced this summer to address climate change, reduce emissions, support renewable energy, and lay the groundwork for an international climate agreement:
- Businesses pledge to address climate change. In July, 13 of the nation’s largest companies—representing $1.3 trillion in revenue in 2014—signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge. The companies—including, Alcoa, Apple, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Cargill, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo, UPS, and Walmart—pledged to take actions to reduce emissions, support sustainable practices, and invest in renewable energy. The administration estimated that the pledges represented at least $140 billion in new low-carbon investment and more than 1,600 megawatts of new renewable energy.
- Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 finalized. Under the plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency establishes carbon pollution standards for power plants, but it is up to states to determine how they will meet the standards, which are scheduled to go into effect in 2022.
- Increased financial support for clean energy. Last week, the administration announced a $1 billion increase in loan guarantees for clean energy development. The plan also increases homeowners’ access to financing for clean energy and approves a transmission line for a solar facility in California.
During a speech at the GLACIER conference in Anchorage, Alaska, Obama acknowledged the United States’ role in contributing to climate change as the world’s largest economy and second largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions. He also highlighted how businesses and average Americans are taking steps to reduce their emissions and indicated that the nation is on track to reduce emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels in the next five years. But “we’re not moving fast enough,” he said. Obama called on the nations at the conference to work together.
“This year, in Paris, has to be the year that the world finally reaches an agreement to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can,” he said.