A New Era in Climate Change?
Kenneth A. Reich, Esquire
Kenneth Reich Law, LLC
Is This a New Era in Climate Change Policy?
As a tumultuous year in U.S. energy and environmental policy comes to an end, the Paris Climate Accord was signed. Will it save the world from the reasonably foreseeable results of Climate Change or is it simply an inadequate agreement with no teeth? I think the answers are ‘hopefully, with some further tweaking’, and ‘no’. The goals set in the Accord are, according to many scientists, much too modest to avoid a catastrophic rise in temperatures. Yet it is the first time in history that nearly 200 countries, including China and India, have signed any type of agreement, much less an agreement to do something as important and complex as address Climate Change. And the Accord does establish a framework for monitoring the progress of each of the signers in achieving their individual goals, 5 year reviews to consider additional reduction targets, and a commitment by developed nations to provide substantial monetary assistance to the undeveloped nations in order to allow them to leap frog the Industrial Revolution and move quickly to a renewables based energy system. Although there is no overall enforcement mechanism, the worldwide recognition that Climate Change is a major problem is a train that has left the station and a combination of public pressure (including the refusal of ordinary citizens to tolerate persistent air pollution (see China)), recognition by the financial and energy markets that fossil fuel cannot be the predominant energy source of the future and the new worldwide opportunities for clean investments spawned by this Accord should keep that train moving forward. Provided that the largest greenhouse gas emitters—the U.S., China and India—don’t back out of the Accord or fail to follow through in good faith with their own emission reduction goals and that the developed world does not default on its pledge to give substantial assistance to the undeveloped nations, the Accord is very likely to usher in a new energy era much less dependent on fossil fuels and much more dependent on renewables and energy conservation/efficiency. While low cost, high emitting coal will be the energy source of choice for much of the developing world in the near term and the U.S. will struggle with the politics and issues of moving to a less carbon intensive energy system, including the need to assist workers who depend on the coal economy for their livelihood and to support states and localities that must adjust to the economic reality of a different energy mix, there are billions to be made by whichever company invents the most efficient and least expensive system to capture and sequester carbon and by the developers of new renewable technologies. Already fracking, for all of its environmental and seismic risks that need to be addressed, is a national game changer in producing abundant supplies of low cost natural gas as a competitor to coal and oil. Not too far from the horizon is the magic bullet energy storage device that will make wind and solar even more viable. Also, let’s not forget zero emissions nuclear energy.
As we bid goodbye to what has been an awful year in many respects, may the Climate Accord and the spirit of cooperation exhibited in Paris inspire us all to confront, with intelligence, compassion and renewed determination, the tremendous problems we face as citizens of a small, populous planet. Best of the holidays to all! Ken