The United Nations headquarters in New York City. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The Earth Day Action Heard Round the World

On Friday, leaders from more than 130 countries will gather in New York to sign the Paris climate agreement.

Rhea Suh
Rhea Suh
Apr 19, 2016 · 4 min read

On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry will mark Earth Day by joining his counterparts from more than 130 other countries at United Nations headquarters in New York to sign the landmark climate accord agreed to last December in Paris.

As dignitaries gather in the cavernous General Assembly Hall where so much world history has been written, I’ll be there to watch this chapter unfold. This is what we’ve worked for decades to achieve, the moment we turn national intentions into global commitment to take on the central environmental challenge of our time.

Climate change is a global problem. It requires a global solution. And yet, it is the actions we take, as nations, that will form the sum of our collective efforts, and bring about the change we need to leave our children a livable world.

The climate threat is grave and growing. Last year was the hottest — about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th Century average — since global record keeping began in 1880. Fifteen of the hottest years on record have occurred during the past 16 years.

Greenland’s ice sheet, one of the world’s largest, began its melting season this year in mid-April, three weeks earlier than ever before.

Scientists last month nearly doubled their predictions of sea level rise, because warming oceans are melting the massive ice shelf of Antarctica far faster than was previously thought. As a result, by the end of this century, seas could rise as much as six feet, enough to inundate the Florida Everglades and put large parts of coastal cities like Norfolk, Charleston, and New Orleans underwater.

Wildfires, meanwhile, burned a record 10.2 million acres in the United States last year. That’s enough to cover all of Connecticut and Vermont.

Small wonder, then, that 64 percent of Americans are worried about climate change, a March poll by the respected Gallup organization found, and about seven in ten want to see our next president take real action to fight it.

Americans can take pride in the climate leadership President Obama has shown. He’s pledged to cut U.S. emissions of carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases at least 26 percent by 2025, and he’s put us on a credible path to achieve that reduction.

President Obama’s agreements or policies are helping us cut the carbon footprint of our trucks, buildings, appliances and aircraft and to double the fuel efficiency of our cars to cut their carbon pollution per mile in half. And the Clean Power Plan he announced last August will help clean up the dirty power plants that account for about 40 percent of our country’s carbon pollution.

He’s helping us to build the energy-efficient cars, homes, and workplaces of the future and to get more clean power from the wind and sun. And he’s promoting the development of a modern national electricity grid that will help us align demand and markets with our emerging clean power opportunities.

For more and more of our business leaders and families, the clean energy revolution has become the economic play of our lifetime. A record 2.5 million Americans are going to work each day to help us get more renewable power, make our homes and workplaces more efficient and create modern transportation options.

There’s far more we can and must do to cut carbon pollution by at least 80 percent by 2050. We’re doing, in our country, what’s best for our future. And, by standing up to climate change at home, Obama helped set the stage for action worldwide. After more than 130 countries sign the world climate accord this Friday, scores more will do so in the coming months, as the nearly 200 countries that pledged support for the Paris accords bring their actions in line with their promises.

China plans to cap its carbon emissions by 2030 — and earlier if possible. Last year China invested $111 billion in clean energy technology — one-third of the world total. And China’s coal consumption has fallen two years in a row, by 3.7 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively, in 2015 and 2014.

India, too, is doing its part, working to slow the growth of its carbon footprint even as its population increases and its economy expands. By increasing renewable energy six-fold by 2022, putting mandatory building efficiency standards in place next year, and implementing other measures, India is aiming for a 33 percent cut in the amount of energy it uses per unit of economic output by 2030.

It has never been more urgent that we move forward, and we’ve never had a greater opportunity to do so, by shifting from the carbon-rich fossil fuels of the past to the clean energy options that can power our future. That’s what the Paris accord is all about: committing to that epic shift, then taking the action needed to make it happen — at home and abroad.

Urge the world’s five top polluters to lead the fight against climate change and keep their Paris commitments.

Natural Resources Defense Council

Protecting our land, air, and water since 1970.

Rhea Suh

Written by

Rhea Suh

President of @NRDC

Natural Resources Defense Council

Protecting our land, air, and water since 1970.

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