The signs of climate change are all around us, from rising sea levels across the globe to the melting of the polar ice caps. No country is immune. The decisions we make today will affect the planet we leave to future generations.
As a global society, our challenge is to recognise the need to take action to keep pollutants out of our environment, while allowing for people to prosper. We must aim for cleaner air, lower energy costs, and new growth industries all at the same time.
These are the stakes at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris, where representatives from almost 200 nations, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Barack Obama, are gathering through December 11 to negotiate a comprehensive climate agreement for the post-2020 world. Now more than ever, there is social and political will to take action to combat the rise in global temperatures and its ripple effect through the environment.
More than 160 countries, responsible for around 90 percent of global emissions, have announced climate targets ahead of the conference. This is a clear step forward and a departure from the past. Only about 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions were addressed under the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, addressing world leaders in Paris on November 30, highlighted Pakistan’s efforts to address climate change within the context of Pakistan’s development and growth objectives. In the months preceding the Paris conference, the United States and Pakistan worked together to address climate change goals, discuss concerns about transition and financing, and develop a constructive path forward. This work culminated in October with the 2015 Joint Statement by President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and in the US-Pakistan Clean Energy Partnership launched during Prime Minister Sharif’s visit.
The December 1-2 US-Pakistan Clean Energy Business Opportunities Conference in Washington was a strong step in this growing Partnership, exposing US companies to investment opportunities in clean energy in Pakistan. There is an opportunity for Pakistan to develop the energy resources it needs, to grow its economy, and to take advantage of new technologies. Doing so would be good for Pakistan’s economy, good for the health of Pakistan’s cities, and good for Pakistanis.
In the joint statement, President Obama and Prime Minister Sharif expressed their commitment to press for an ambitious agreement on climate change at the Paris Climate Conference. The leaders also “underscored the importance of longer-range efforts to transition to low-carbon economies and of continued, robust financial support to help developing countries build low-carbon and climate-resilient societies.”
Since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington, Pakistan, the United States, and many other countries have joined efforts to amend the Montreal Protocol to curb the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons. They addressed this issue most recently at the 27th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in November in Dubai. Every nation has its own role to play in addressing climate change. We appreciate the contributions of Pakistan to this important cause.
The United States is acting boldly on climate change at home as we work with partner nations to do the same. Since President Obama took office, the United States has reduced carbon emissions, tripled domestic wind energy production, and increased solar power twenty-fold. We’ve put in place stringent new fuel economy standards so that our cars are using less gas, energy use is more efficient, and an historic amount of land and water has been protected for future generations. At the same time, the US economy has expanded, proving that growth is not inextricably linked to carbon output.
By 2030, President Obama’s Clean Power Plan will cut emissions from the US power sector – now producing a third of the nation’s carbon emissions – by 32 percent, saving more than $50 billion in climate and health-related costs in the process.
In Paris, the United States is pushing for an effective agreement that continues to drive ambitious climate action by all countries, while recognising the differences among them. It should provide a long-term framework – with high standards of transparency and accountability – that calls on nations to ratchet up their targets over time. And it must provide countries in need with financial and technical support for low-carbon development and adaptation to a changing climate.
With leaders and representatives from almost every nation on earth convening in Paris, there is an historic opportunity to strike a far-reaching and durable climate agreement. We have the political will and groundswell of social support to make it work. However, we will need to come together – the United States, Pakistan, and many other nations – and be pragmatic to reach a deal. For brighter skies today and a more secure and prosperous tomorrow, now is the time to act.
The writer is the US ambassador to Pakistan.