In just over a month, the United States and virtually every other country on our planet will gather in Paris with the common cause of hashing out an ambitious, universal, and durable climate agreement.
A strong Paris deal would transform the global energy economy and help avert the worst effects of climate change. Success would reflect a new level of partnership: government leaders from every region, working constructively alongside the private sector and civil society to address an enormous challenge that no one could solve alone.
Success in Paris is not a given. I was at the very first UN climate change conference in Brazil in 1992 and have been to many others since; I have seen the world try and fail to address this threat for decades. We have been doing all we can to avoid the pitfalls of the past.
President Barack Obama has taken ambitious steps to curb our own emissions; his target is that by 2025, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions will be 26 to 28 percent lower than they were 20 years earlier. As secretary of state, I have made climate action a diplomatic priority, engaging directly with the world’s largest emitters. The joint announcements the U.S. has made with China, Mexico, Brazil and others have generated critical momentum.
The United States has also helped to define an approach grounded in nationally determined greenhouse gas reduction targets, so all countries can take actions appropriate to their specific circumstances. To date, more than 150 countries — representing about 85 percent of the world’s total emissions — have submitted their contributions. This stands in stark contrast to the top-down, regulatory approach taken under the Kyoto protocol — which, in the end, reflected commitments from only a small subset of nations.
Still, even as the talks continue — and, even as we recognise that a global agreement in Paris will be critical to this effort, we also know that such an agreement, in and of itself, will not get us where we need to be. The fact is that we need to seize every opportunity — before, during and after Paris — to make progress.
The most compelling immediate opportunity is a meeting next week in Dubai of the signatories to the 1987 Montreal protocol, which remains the most successful environmental treaty in recent history. Thanks to this agreement, which banned ozone-depleting substances that were ubiquitous at the time, the health of earth’s atmospheric shield against ultraviolet rays will be restored by the middle of this century.
That is the good news. The bad news is that many of the banned substances have been replaced by dangerous greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Across the world, their use is increasing by 10 to 15 percent a year. But there is a simple way to reverse that trend: an amendment to the Montreal protocol that reduces production and consumption of these potent greenhouse gases.
Most nations that are serious about climate action have come to the same conclusion. Four proposals to amend the Montreal protocol have been put forward by the United States and various cosponsors representing 40 countries. Many other countries are supportive, including all of the countries on continental Africa.
When it comes to climate change, big wins do not come often or easily. This is a rare opportunity to make genuine progress. The Montreal protocol has a proven record, and an HFC amendment could avoid 0.5C of warming by the end of the century.
It would also show the world that we are ready for a new chapter in the climate fight. If we can reach an agreement on HFCs in Dubai, we will lay the groundwork for even greater cooperation toward a successful outcome in Paris — and our planet will be better off for it.