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In our last EESI Update, we wondered whether a strong climate deal could be reached in Paris. And now, we are looking at Earth Day, when more than 170 nations—including the world’s #1 and #2 emitters, the United States and China—plan to sign the historic Paris climate agreement at the United Nations! The Paris climate agreements are being turned into action, as they must.
Action may not be easy, but neither was the road to Paris, one of many such international negotiations since the Framework Convention on Climate Change was first signed in 1992. But with strong commitments from countries around the world due to the increasingly obvious impacts of climate change, the world's nations unanimously reached a deal that sets the stage for decisive climate action. The agreement seeks to keep warming significantly below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), with "efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C" (2.7 °F). Until now, the global community had only agreed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, but 2 °C would not avert significant impacts, such as sea-level rise in coastal areas and low-lying island nations.
The Paris agreement contains much that is good. Critically, almost every country—whether industrialized or developing—made commitments to cut their carbon emissions. They are expected to submit ever more ambitious climate plans every five years, as renewable energy technologies become cheaper and more available and more efficiency gains are sought in every sector. And, though the commitments are not legally binding, transparent procedures will be set up to keep nations accountable. It is critical that the world’s nations stick to their plans to turn these commitments into action.
Nation-states are clearly not the only key actors on climate. Business commitments in the run-up to Paris were, and remain, critical. In the United States, 154 major companies (employing nearly 11 million people) have signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge. More than 500 institutions with more than $3.4 trillion in assets are divesting from fossil fuel stocks. And 28 of the world's wealthiest investors will commit a combined $2 billion over the next five years to clean energy research and development.
But we're not out of the woods yet. The national climate action pledges are not legally binding, and, taken together, they will not keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5°C. Developing countries, those most in need of help with their mitigation and adaptation efforts, need the world to follow through on commitments for climate finance.
The Paris agreement was a hard won turning point, but it was also a starting point. EESI's Executive Director, Carol Werner, emphasized that turning the deal into action is key, "The momentum must not be squandered. A deal is only as good as its implementation.”
For more information on how the Paris agreement was achieved and what’s in it, see our February 10th briefing, What’s in the Paris deal?
The Supreme Court's decision on February 9 to temporarily block implementation of the Clean Power Plan was unexpected to say the least. The Clean Power Plan is a key part of the administration’s commitment to tackle climate change and move the United States to clean, sustainable energy. The Clean Power Plan (CPP) calls for the U.S. electricity sector to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. It shows the rest of the world that we are serious about implementing the Paris climate agreement (see above article). But the truth is, whatever happens to the Clean Power Plan, our country’s move towards clean, renewable energy has become unstoppable.
The Supreme Court's stay was unexpected because it was unprecedented. The Court had never before stopped the implementation of a regulation before its review by a federal appeals court. Such an unusual decision suggests the five Justices who granted the stay were at least somewhat sympathetic to the Clean Power Plan’s challengers.
The uncertainty caused by the Supreme Court stay pales in comparison to the uncertainty unleashed by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia just four days later, on February 13. Scalia, 79, was one of the five justices who granted the stay. His death means predicting the Court's future rulings will be harder; his successor will likely serve as the tie-breaker in a Clean Power Plan ruling.
There are many ways this situation could play out. Another Justice leaving the Court would create further uncertainty and cannot be ruled out (four of the eight remaining Justices are 67 or older).
As you know, the nomination of a new Supreme Court Justice is embroiled in presidential election-year politics. So a new Justice may not be confirmed until the first quarter of 2017, after a new President has come into office. By coincidence, the first quarter of 2017 is also probably when the Clean Power Plan would reach the Supreme Court's docket. (The case must first be decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, whose ruling is expected in the fall).
Clean energy is our future; the Clean Power Plan is following, not leading underlying trends. Clean energy is an important way of reducing air pollution and improving public health. Moreover, renewables are already cost-competitive with fossil fuels in many areas, and their prices continue to fall. In late February, a solar utility offered to supply electricity to Palo Alto, CA, for only 3.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, a record low (the average price for end users in the United States is 10 cents/kWh). Also in late February, Iowa, my home state, became the first in the nation to supply more than 30 percent of its electricity from wind power. In April, MidAmerican Energy, the large investor-owned utility in Iowa, announced a goal to move toward a goal of 100 percent renewable power for its customers in the state, without a rate increase for customers.
Hydropower, by far our largest source of renewable energy over the past decades, still has much potential as only three percent of our country’s existing dams generate electricity. Two other baseload sources of power, bioenergy and geothermal, are tried and true technologies but could do so much more. Bioenergy alone, already our country's second largest source of renewable energy, could sustainably displace one-third of our petroleum usage. Hydrogen fuel cells are coming into their own and will no doubt play an important role in our transition to clean energy. And let us not forget energy efficiency—the cheapest, most effective way to reduce electricity bills and cut emissions is not to use electricity in the first place!
At least 19 states, and many utilities, have seen the writing on the wall, and are pushing forward with their Clean Power Plan implementation efforts. They know that even if the Clean Power Plan is rejected by the Courts, it's in their best interests to move to sustainable clean energy. They also know that the government will eventually need to curtail carbon emissions from existing fossil fuel plants, even if that means drawing up new rules from scratch.
We hope it doesn't come down to that. The Clean Power Plan may not be essential, but it will certainly speed up our transition to a sustainable, fossil-free economy—and time is of the essence in addressing climate change, whose effects are already apparent. With you on our side, EESI will keep pressing forward with solutions to addressing climate change.
EESI Briefing Helped Showcase Tribe's Plight
Chief Albert Naquin of the Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians
One of EESI's key goals is making connections that will result in concrete, positive outcomes. Besides providing needed information to Congressional staffers, who attend in significant numbers, EESI’s briefings are ideal networking opportunities and help spread ideas, providing impetus for further action. A remarkable example of such an impact was EESI's briefing featuring the plight of the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians, who are losing their land in Louisiana due to sea level rise.
The Isle de Jean Charles tribe has been working to relocate for the past 13 years, in part through the tireless advocacy of Chief Albert White Buffalo Naquin. In 2015, EESI held a Congressional briefing on their plight. At the briefing, What if the Water Can't be Stopped?, JR Naquin, standing in for Chief Albert Naquin, explained that the tribe has lost 98 percent of the island they have lived on since the mid-19th century because of sea level rise and land subsidence.
On January 21, the Obama Administration made an unprecedented move when it offered $48 million to help this Louisiana tribe relocate away from its disintegrating island home. The tribe is the first coastal indigenous group to relocate as a community in modern times, and is paving the way for other groups who face climate impacts to plan their own relocations.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Rockefeller Foundation chose the tribe as one of the winners of their innovative National Disaster Resilience Competition—which we showcased in an EESI briefing! The joint federal-private program seeks to enhance resilience in American communities.
The grant will fund both the tribe and the Lowlander Center, a nonprofit that supports low-land communities affected by sea level rise. "This award will allow our Tribe to design and develop a new, culturally appropriate and resilient site for our community, safely located further inland," said Chief Albert White Buffalo Naquin. The new settlement will have a health clinic, food market, and an outlet to sell indigenously-produced products. The tribe hopes its resettlement will serve as a resource and example to other communities, both nationally and internationally, which face similar threats.
EESI's briefings, newsletters, and publications are well-known in the DC policy community and among EESI supporters like you. But our work takes many other shapes, not often obvious! EESI staffers aren’t simply briefing organizers. They are often invited to share their expertise in clean energy and sustainability:
- The White House has asked EESI for advice on how it can better help rural communities benefit from low-cost federal funds for on-bill financing (OBF) programs; the OBF approach helps families make their homes more energy efficient at no upfront cost.
- EESI staffers John-Michael Cross and Miguel Yanez and our consulting team are crisscrossing the country, urging public utilities and rural electric cooperatives to explore the benefits of on-bill financing. EESI provides information and crucial technical assistance to launch on-bill financing programs.
- The Department of State asked EESI Executive Director Carol Werner to give a presentation on clean energy strategies and policies to a delegation of 10 government officials from Central and Latin America.
- Carol served as the only non-profit representative on the Steering Committee reviewing the Department of Energy's Bioenergy Technologies Office and its R&D programs.
- Policy Director Ellen Vaughan served as a reviewer for the Department of Energy's U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Collaboration in Building Energy Efficiency, an initiative overseen by the DOE's Building Technologies Office.
- Ellen provided an oral statement at a stakeholder engagement meeting EPA held on the Federal Implementation Plan (the FIP will apply to states that don't develop their own Clean Power Plan compliance strategies).
- Separately, EESI also submitted comments to EPA's docket on the Federal Implementation Plan.
- EESI Policy Associate Jessie Stolark has participated in numerous panels on biofuels and bioenergy, including the DOE's 2015 Bioenergy Conference.
- EESI brought attention to the need for real world emissions testing for both engines and fuels during a House Oversight Committee hearing on the Volkswagen scandal.
- We are an active participant in the energy efficiency strategy coalition, which holds biweekly meetings to develop effective, shared strategies for policy development.
Last but not least, EESI staffers also serve as a resource for reporters. According to Policy Associate Laura Small, "I often serve as a source for reporters, who either directly quote me or ask me to guide their research. I devote a great deal of time and energy to providing accurate and comprehensive information to reporters, because their impact can be so great."
Media outlets covering EESI's work over the past few months have included The Washington Post, China Southern Weekly (one of China's leading newspapers), BNA Bloomberg, The Hill and Science Magazine. EESI Executive Carol Werner, who is regularly interviewed by journalists, also pens op-eds, including "To Paris with love: Stop Fossil Fuel Subsidies," which was published in The Hill as delegates gathered in Paris for the climate talks.
Blum Convinced EESI Has Key Role to Play
Jared Blum has been working in the energy efficiency arena for 25 years now, but he got his start as an Elizabethan theater major at Boston University. How did the CEO of the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA) and Chair of EESI turn his study of theater into an accomplished career leading the charge on critical issues like energy efficiency, sustainable construction, and atmospheric environmental initiatives? Jared explains, “Once I realized the potential for positive impact on our world and future generations, I was hooked on energy efficiency and related topics.”
Blum says he joined EESI 17 years ago because he “was fascinated by its approach to key issues and its role as a forum for all the parts of the energy/environmental puzzle.” After 11 years on EESI’s board, he was named Chair in 2010 (taking over from EESI co-founder Dick Ottinger, a former member of Congress from New York who remains an EESI board member). Jared is passionate about supporting EESI’s mission, through his board service and financially. He is a monthly donor to EESI, saying “it’s easy to give to EESI—I just set it up and know that I’m supporting EESI year-round." He has also included EESI in his estate planning, saying, “I would like my legacy to include the continued push to a clean energy economy—and to support EESI’s key role in that.”
PIMA, the association Jared leads, is also part of the way he expresses his passion for energy efficiency. Over the past 25 years, PIMA has received two awards from the Environmental Protection Agency for climate and ozone protection, developed award-winning governmental affairs and technical education programs, and become recognized as a national leader in construction fire safety, energy efficiency, and atmospheric environmental initiatives. PIMA is also a long-standing EESI Associate, a group of donors helping EESI carry out its mission by contributing $1,000 or more per year.
Blum’s extensive knowledge in the field of energy efficiency has led to memberships on a number of high-ranking committees and councils as well as consultations with national media, academia, government, and industry on environmental issues. This impressive resume establishes him as a prominent voice in the national discourse on issues of sustainability and climate change. When asked about his views on the Paris climate deal and the Clean Power Plan (CPP), he commented, “The Paris deal is an extraordinary opportunity to mitigate emissions globally,” and the “CPP creates a nationwide, achievable plan that irrespective of political parties can and should be implemented.” Blum sees it as critical for EESI to “continue to provide a balanced forum in which innovative policy solutions are developed—something for which it has become so well regarded.”
You Can Help Our Country Transition to Sustainable Energy!
As our country continues to implement its climate action plan and as the Paris agreement is ratified, keeping up the momentum is crucial. You are key to helping make that possible! EESI receives no Congressional appropriations, but depends on you and others like you to help make this work possible. If you are reading this, you clearly care about energy efficiency and renewable energy, and you want win-win, sustainable solutions.
You can help our country transition to sustainable energy when you make a 2016 tax-deductible gift to EESI in the way that’s right for you:
Thank you for putting your commitment to sustainable energy to work in so many ways – including by giving to EESI!
A special thanks to our amazing interns!
For information on EESI internships, visit the Internship section of our website.
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