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What The U.S. Climate Commitment Means For Global Climate Action

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 12:00

Last week, the U.S. joined the ranks of the European Union, Norway, Switzerland, Gabon, and Mexico among others in announcing their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), the commitment each country is presenting in an effort to tackle the climate crisis. Each of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 195 member countries is putting forth an INDC in the run up to the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris later this year.


As promised, the U.S. commitment has followed through on promises the Obama Administration made in the game changing U.S.-China deal last November. Acting as a leader on climate action, the U.S. is committing to a 28 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2025, which, as the world’s largest emitter, is a significant contribution to the fight to protect the planet for future generations.


And it’s clear that the American people are ready for climate action. A recent poll found that 72 percent of American’s support the U.S. signing an international climate agreement.

On top of that, from what we’ve already seen, this commitment is not only doable, but we’re already on our way to meeting this goal.  The U.S. offer, combined with the explosive growth of clean energy, an grassroots driven shift away from coal, and continued climate action at all levels of government, will begin to move us toward a safe pathway that avoids catastrophic climate disruption.


Wednesday, Bloomberg Philanthropies committed $30 million to the Sierra Club in order to continue the fight to move beyond coal and transition to the clean energy economy. This major boost to the campaign will help ensure the U.S. can follow through on climate commitments and lead the way on international climate action.


And in just the past five years, we’ve seen 187 coal-fired power plants either retired or announced to retire -- accounting for a whopping 77 gigawatts of dirty coal generation. At the same time, clean energy powerhouses like wind and solar have seen exponential growth not only in the U.S. but around the globe. As these trends continue to accelerate, it’s clear that the U.S. will not only be able to meet its commitment for Paris but will ultimately be able to achieve a 100 percent clean energy future.


Despite all of this, we know that the U.S. is not the only global carbon emitter, and its commitment alone won’t be able to stave off the worst effects of climate disruption. In order to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate disruption, governments will have to continue to accelerate emissions reductions around the globe. But the U.S.’s commitment coupled with the climate commitments from around the world will help keep the door open for a healthier, safer, more resilient future for our planet.


And it’s clear from the commitments from ally countries and global climate action in recent months -- from the UK pledging to move toward a low-carbon economy and end the use of unabated coal for power generation to China pledging to peak carbon emissions by 2030 -- the U.S. isn’t alone in the fight.


Combined, with the INDCs that have already been submitted, 60 percent of global carbon pollution has already been accounted for within these positive, transparent commitments for climate action. With more than 160 countries left to announce their commitments, it’s clear that meaningful climate action is within the planet’s grasp.

John Coequyt From Compass

The Best City Programs Promoting Electric Cars

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 08:05

This post was co-written by Hayley Hoverter, a Sierra Club intern and Dartmouth College student.

In just the last couple of weeks, there has been good news and bad news about state electric vehicle (EV) programs. Georgia decided to end its $5,000 consumer EV tax credit by this summer (so run out and buy one now if you live in the peach state!), and Illinois quietly cancelled its $4,000 EV rebate program. However, Massachusetts renewed its $1,500-2,500 EV consumer rebate program last week, and it looks like new state EV incentives might be coming down the pike in states like Oregon and Rhode Island.

State programs are important, but what can cities and towns do to accelerate a consumer switch to EVs?

I was recently approached by Marc McGovern, one of my own city councilors, to explore what Cambridge, Mass., can do. A lot, I told him, and he filed a resolution asking the city manager to look into options. His fellow City Councilor Leland Cheung has expressed interest in promoting EVs to Cantabrigians too. I'm looking forward to what they will achieve. Here are some models for them and others to consider:

City Fleets

EVs save communities fueling and maintenance costs in addition to reducing pollution. This is why New York City has integrated more than 600 plug in electric vehicles into its fleet of Fire, Sanitation, and Parks & Recreation Department vehicles. Smaller cities are getting in the game too; Somerville, Mass., is adding 16 EVs to its municipal fleet. In February, Seneca, South Carolina, announced that it logged over 100,000 miles with six electric Proterra buses, the only all-electric transit bus fleet in the country.

Registration and Parking Incentives 

What would prevent EV owners from having to go an extra mile to find parking? Since 2005, New Haven, Connecticut, has provided free metered parking for hybrids and EVs. Cincinnati EV drivers get free parking at any meter in the city and at two city-owned parking garages. Warren, Rhode Island, and Washington, DC, offer their residents with plug-in cars an excise tax exemption and reduced registration.  

Public Charging Stations

In February, Jacksonville, Florida, unveiled Chargewell, a program setting up 30 charging stations throughout the city through a partnership with the N. Florida Transportation Planning Organization and the Jacksonville Electric Authority. Austin, Texas, provides unlimited charging for under $5 a month at over 170 public charging stations. Last summer, Palo Alto, California, passed an ordinance that requires all new apartments, commercial buildings, and hotels to have charging stations.

Public Education

We have yet to see a fantastic EV web site put out by a city or town (please share if you know of a good one). But many mayors have been getting behind EVs by attending and promoting EV awareness events, like at National Drive Electric Week activities last September when Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore and Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles were among many mayors who issued 'drive electric' proclamations.  Portland, Oregon's Electric Avenue, the city's program that partnered with Portland State University to provide EV charging stations, raised public awareness by holding a ribbon cutting with the Mayor and staging a flash mob. Their efforts paid off - the program was featured in more than 200 news stories.

The Road Ahead

A new report from the journal Nature shows that a switch to EVs actually helps cool cities down by not producing heat that builds up in traffic jams. That, in turn, reduces the need for air conditioning, a major energy sucker. It's more important now than ever that our mayors, city councilors, and other community leaders aren't just taking a backseat, but are driving the acceleration for EVs.

Tell us: what is happening to promote EVs in your own local community?

Gina Coplon-Newfield From Compass

Doubling Down with Bloomberg Philanthropies to Replace Coal with Clean Energy

Tue, 04/07/2015 - 14:03

Today, I had the honor of standing with Michael Bloomberg and dozens of Sierra Club volunteers, staff, and supporters in Washington, DC, to announce a new round of investment by Bloomberg Philanthropies in the work of the Beyond Coal Campaign. With this new support of $30 million over three years, we plan to double down on our past success and secure replacement of half the nation's coal plants with clean energy by 2017.

It's been four years since I first stood with Michael Bloomberg, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, and our staff and volunteers in front of the polluting GenOn coal plant in Alexandria, Virginia, to announce the launch of our game-changing partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies. The goal of that first round of funding: replace one-third of the nation's coal plants with clean energy by the end of 2015.

That initial investment by Bloomberg Philanthropies has delivered some incredible results, and we're on our way to meeting that goal. The Alexandria coal plant is one of 187 coal plants that have either retired or announced they will retire since 2010, thanks to the work of Sierra Club and over 100 partner organizations, helping to secure clean air and clean water for millions of Americans by supporting the amazing work of activists nationwide. Even better, we're on track to replace that coal with clean, renewable energy like wind, solar, and energy efficiency.
We've been able to expand our Beyond Coal campaign from 15 to 45 states, and we've helped build the coalitions that have demanded an end to unchecked pollution in communities all across the nation. Coal has plunged from 52 percent of U.S. electricity generation to under 40 percent.
Make no mistake about it -- this energy transition has not been driven by Washington or Wall Street, but by Main Street. It was made possible by regular people fighting in their backyards for the safety of their families and the future of their communities, in places like Chicago, Indianapolis, North Omaha, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Austin, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Gulfport, and Alexandria. From fighting coal exports, to retiring dirty coal plants in low income neighborhoods, to protecting the Appalachian mountains from mountaintop-removal coal mining, and so much more, these activists of all ages and from all backgrounds are a force to be reckoned with.

These campaigns being led by city council members, pastors, doctors, parents, teachers, and kids are the deciding factor in replacing coal plants with clean energy. These regular Americans are the deciding factor that has turned the tide on climate change. They will be the deciding factor in our success in this next chapter of our partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies.

And we're not done yet.
With a new $30 million of funding over the next three years, Bloomberg Philanthropies is recommitting to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal strategy.  Acting as a catalyst in the fight against climate disruption, Bloomberg will lead a coalition of funders that aim to match up to $30 million of funding, further boosting the Sierra Club's capacity to move the U.S. toward cleaner energy sources faster. This new support will allow us to:

  • Save lives by cleaning up the air and water. The health benefits of our work to date include preventing 5,000 premature deaths,  avoiding 82,600 asthma attacks, and saving $2.3 billion in health care costs - every year. Retiring even one coal plant can  prevent 29 premature deaths, 47 heart attacks and 146 asthma attacks annually. Peer-reviewed research has also shown families living next to mountaintop-removal coal mines have higher risks of cancer, birth defects, and premature death. Replacing half the nation's coal plants with clean energy will bring real improvements to people's lives.
  • Accelerate the shift to clean energy. From Oklahoma to North Omaha and beyond, community leaders are replacing retiring coal plants with wind and solar power, increasing energy efficiency, and calling on their public officials to make their cities and states leaders in the clean energy economy. This new funding will help us drive that transition even faster.
  • Position the U.S. as a climate leader. Our reduced use of coal and increased use of renewables made it possible for the US to reach a climate agreement with China, and positioned the U.S. as a global leader going into the 2015 United Nations climate change conference in Paris, where nations, businesses, cities, and other actors will convene to make bold commitments on greenhouse gas emission reductions. But the science is clear that we must do more, and the goals announced today by the Sierra Club will put the nation on a path to exceed the U.S. climate targets announced in late March by the Obama Administration.
  • Advance an economic transition. I live in West Virginia, so I understand that the shift away from coal poses big challenges to some parts of the country. It's also something that we have long seen coming -- Senator Robert Byrd warned in 2009 that big changes were facing the coal industry, and told his fellow West Virginians we could "choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it." That transition is now upon us, and we will continue our work with partners and communities to find pathways and resources for economic transition, so that the whole nation will benefit from the rise of the clean energy economy, especially the places that already have sacrificed so much to power this nation.

It's exciting to imagine what we will accomplish over the next three years of this partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies. We look forward to continuing this legacy of moving beyond coal to save lives, clean up our air and water, stop climate disruption, and secure the clean energy necessary to power our nation.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass