Friday, 22 September 2017

Why I’m an optimist this Earth Day

Earth Day

DESPITE all the reasons for concern and condemnation that I could dwell on, I’m an optimist this Earth Day. I’m an optimist because of the lesson I learned on the first Earth Day 47 years ago when I was one of 20 million Americans who took to the streets to demand that leaders protect our environment. Before that first Earth Day, there was no Environmental Protection Agency, no Clean Water Act, no Clean Air Act as we know it. Citizens created the demand signal – and politicians followed because they had no choice. What a journey from 1970 to Earth Day 2016, when I joined leaders from more than 100 nations to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change. When it was my turn to take the pen, my 2-year-old granddaughter was on my lap. Earth Day was no longer just an American impulse – it was the entire world coming together to protect the future for Isabelle and children everywhere. I know that on Earth Day 2017, that future feels a little less certain, and understandably so. But – for the same reason 1970’s people-powered activism turned power structures upside down – something big has already begun around the world that can be slowed but not stopped.The US energy market is in the middle of a fundamental transformation – and that’s true regardless of Washington’s policies. Last year was the third consecutive year in which renewable technologies – especially wind and solar – made up more than half of new generating capacity added to US grid. And it’s clear that energy transformation is truly global. Last year roughly twice as much was invested in renewables capacity worldwide than in fossil-fuel generation.  America’s businesses and state and local governments know well what the future holds and are planning accordingly. That’s why I am confident the United States will not only meet but also exceed the bold emissions-reduction targets President Barack Obama set – even if the new administration takes the misguided step of revoking them. More concerning to me are the potential reverberations our policy changes could have around equator and from pole to pole. The Paris Agreement wasn’t written overnight; it was the product of decades of negotiations and debates over which countries needed to do what and when. We brought the global community together around a shared understanding that, ultimately, every one of our nations had to act. The final text is not legally binding. It is rooted instead in mutual accountability. The international community committed to work together for maximum impact. Each country would determine how ambitious its climate policies could be, given its unique circumstances, but all would strive to be as forward-leaning as possible. The countries that needed extra support – in the form of technical or financial assistance – to achieve their goals would get it. And critically, all would report regularly on their progress and hold one another accountable. I would imagine that most countries thought that the United States would be leading the charge when it came to applying pressure and holding others accountable to their pledges – so did I. Nonetheless, the United States was just one of the 196 parties to adopt the agreement. We can’t allow dysfunction in Washington to give other leaders in the world a free pass to back away from the bold sense of cooperation that permeated our long meetings in Paris. Mutual accountability has never been more important. Most Americans stand with the world in making a different bet – a bet on science, a bet on reality. We understand that we have to move forward, with or without Washington. It is up to each of us to dial up the demand signal – to ensure that the climate solutions don’t just happen – but that they happen in time to save our planet. That’s a bet I’ll make every time – and that’s why everything I know about the citizens of the United States and the world leads me to bet on optimism this Earth Day. The writer was US secretary of state from 2013 to 2017.

John F Kerry

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