The Paris Agreement for Dummies: Part 4

On December 12, 2020, the world celebrated the five-year anniversary of the signing of the landmark Paris Agreement. While the Trump Administration formally pulled the United States out of Paris, President-elect Joe Biden vowed to rejoin the global pact upon taking office in January 2021, and once again establish the country as a global leader on climate change. In the lead-up to Inauguration Day on January 20, POW is going to re-introduce you to the Paris Agreement, focusing on what it is, its impacts on the Outdoor State, its economic ramifications and what the future holds for the Agreement. We understand that the Paris Agreement is complex, wonky if you will, but we’ve broken it all down to help school you on its most important measures.

Welcome to Paris For Dummies.

The Paris Agreement:

what’s next?

WORDS & HEADER IMAGE: DONNY O’NEILL

Paris Agreement Framework

Click below for a refresher on the framework of the Paris Agreement

The United States is set to rejoin the Paris Agreement following Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021. The benefits of a clean energy economy are obvious, and Biden pledges to make that the focus as his administration works to build back America’s economy. There are nominees set to join the incoming administration who put addressing climate change at the top of their to-do lists. And control of the House of Representatives and Senate is held by officials who share those priorities. Not only does this signal a cultural shift in the nation’s priorities on climate, but gives climate policies the momentum they need to be implemented. These important pieces, technological and financial solutions, political will and a cultural shift, will come together to form the puzzle outlined in the Paris Agreement; carbon neutrality by 2050 that limits global warming to two degrees Celsius. The sum of these three parts also represents Protect Our Winter’s (POW) Theory of Change. And the outdoor community can have a disproportionate effect on meeting the goals of Paris.

Take a look at Moab, Utah, as an example. When you think of Moab, scenes of tightrope mountain bike descents next to plunging vertical cliffs, red rock formations stolen from the planet Mars, meandering rivers and even ski descents from 12,000 feet probably scroll across your mind. But, do you see a leader in renewable energy? Because in addition to being a beacon of outdoor recreation, Moab has stepped up in recent years to address its own carbon footprint and prepare for the future. It’s no coincidence that the measures the city has taken align with meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, either. It did, after all, sign on to the “We Are Still In” declaration to abide by the goals of the Paris Agreement despite the United States’ departure from it. 

Way back in 2009, Moab set ambitious goals, for the time, to reduce community dependence on nonrenewable fuels by 2020 and through the encouragement of the City of Moab government, to achieve community-wide buy-in and make a transition to renewables a culturally adopted norm. Objectives included powering municipal operations via 50 percent renewable energy by 2024 and 100 percent by 2027, and implementing 100 percent community-wide renewable electricity by 2032, in order to pull down local emissions by 50 percent in 2032 and 80 percent in 2040. 

In 2019, Moab revisited those goals with new information at hand. It pushed up the deadline for community-wide renewable electricity-use from 2032 to 2030 and implemented changes to the transportation sector that included a 10 percent increase in public adoption of electric vehicles by 2032 and a reduction of traditional fuel use by 20 percent by 2032. Through all of this, Moab relied on measures made by fellow Utah green communities Park City and Salt Lake City to help formulate its own roadmap toward carbon neutrality. This commitment was due in large part to the outspokenness of the passionate community to preserve Moab’s natural playground, as well as the leadership of local government representatives to enact these policies.

There’s so much worth protecting in Moab. Mountain biking during the Protect Our Winters Summit in 2019.

Photo: Aaron Blatt

Moab is a clear example of the pillars of POW’s Theory of Change—financial instruments and technology, political will and cultural shift—at work and provides a clear picture of what the continued evolution of the Paris Agreement could look like in the United States. The commitment by the community of Moab, who rely on outdoor recreation for their own lifestyles as well as the health of the local economy, helped implement change that can have a ripple effect across the state of Utah and the rest of the country.

POW’s Theory of Change

The impact made by the small outdoor community of Moab, and others who signed the “We Are Still In” declaration, is an indicator of what you’ll see locally when President-elect Joe Biden rejoins Paris upon taking office. While on the federal level, the United States has been absent from Paris Agreement initiatives over the last four years, state and local governments pushed forward with policies that aligned with those goals, keeping the United States above water without proper climate leadership at the federal level. The catalyst for change happens at the margins.

The record-breaking turnout for the 2020 presidential election by American citizens, including the 50-million member Outdoor State, put leadership in place to help propel this climate agenda forward. It’s further evidence that by educating and turning out the vote from the passionate outdoor community, we can see a shift in the United State’s response to the climate crisis from the ground up. But it’s the combination of a clean energy future, cultural shift toward addressing climate change and political will that will achieve the overarching goal of Paris. 

Local clean energy measures, like those taken in Moab, are what you’ll see firsthand in your local community and the outdoor-centric towns close to your hearts. But people and policy will also stand out in the coming months when Joe Biden takes office and rejoins Paris.

This demand for climate policy from voters is already paying off in spades, as Joe Biden has appointed climate champions to key positions of his cabinet, and each will play an instrumental role in the United States’ positioning on the Paris Agreement and its goals moving forward. Take a look at a few key players that you’ll be hearing from as the United States rejoins Paris.

people

Having the right people in office—climate champions who put solving the issue of climate change at the top of their agenda—is a surefire way to make sure climate-forward policies are put in place. Right now, those elected officials should be working to implement legislation that helps meet the goals of Paris. So far, President-elect Joe Biden has focused on appointing an all-star caliber team of climate champions to important positions in his administration. These are the people who will take the outline of the Paris Agreement and push the United States to the next level as a global climate leader.

Former Secretary of State, John Kerry, will assume the new role of Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. Kerry will be in charge of undoing the damage done by the Trump Administration’s denouncement of proven climate science and backing out of the Paris Agreement and reaffirming the nation’s role as a global leader on climate. As Secretary of State under President Barrack Obama, Kerry helped lead negotiations of the Paris Agreement and convince almost 200 nations to buy-in to a commitment to stiff-arm the effects of global climate change. His appointment is a clear signal of the United States’ intention to rejoin Paris and steer the ship back on course toward meeting its goals.

Gina McCarthy will take the role of White House Climate Coordinator under the incoming Biden Administration. McCarthy will be tasked with integrating climate policy throughout federal legislation which is a huge step in the right direction, as McCarthy is forever tied with the Paris Agreement. She was the head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Barrack Obama and helped broker the Paris Agreement in 2015. As president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), she sued the Trump Administration over 100 times over environmental rollbacks and is uniquely suited to push a climate-forward agenda upon taking office. McCarthy will serve as the domestic counterpart to John Kerry and will be tasked with integrating climate policy throughout federal legislation. 

McCarthy is a long-time friend and supporter of POW. She co-wrote an op-ed with POW Alliance member and Olympic silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler, that hit during the 2015 Winter X Games, that painted a picture of the current and future effects of climate change on the winter sports industry, using examples from Bleiler’s home of Aspen, Colorado. McCarthy also made sure POW was “in the room” during the announcement of the Clean Power Plan, and co-hosted a POW climate panel during the 2016 SIA Snow Show. When it comes to linking the climate crisis with the preservation of outdoor playgrounds, McCarthy just gets it.

Deb Haaland is a Representative from New Mexico and will head the Department of the Interior (DOI) under Joe Biden. Haaland’s influence will tie directly into the goals of the Paris Agreement in two major ways. 

First, with regards to the preamble to the Paris Agreement, which reads as follows:

“When taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.” 

Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo people and will become the first indigenous person to assume the role of interior secretary—a profoundly huge milestone for Native Americans, who are disproportionately affected by decisions made by the DOI as well as the effects of climate change. Haaland is a no-brainer choice to repair the federal government’s treatment of indigenous people which has been so poor under the Trump administration—and throughout history, for that matter—and ensure the rights of Native American communities are upheld. 

Second, Haaland has been outspoken in her opposition to policies that have opened millions of acres of public lands to oil and gas drilling. The reduction of protections for the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments, she’s noted, opened up land to mining and drilling directly adjacent to Navajo nation territories and a Hopi reservation, further underscoring the disproportionate impact that fossil fuel extraction on public lands has on indigenous communities. Currently, 20 to 25 percent of America’s carbon emissions come from public lands, and Haaland’s ability to reduce that will make significant strides toward meeting the emissions reduction targets of the Paris Agreement as well as its commitment to respect the rights and health of vulnerable marginalized people.

Michael Regan is set to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a crucial position in moving President-elect Joe Biden’s ambitious climate plans forward. The EPA will be hugely responsible for federal measures that undo the damage done by the Trump Administration and eliminate carbon emissions from the power grid by 2035 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, as outlined in Biden’s climate plan. 

Regan most recently served as the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), where he created a clean energy plan that sought a 70-percent emissions reduction from the state’s power sector by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. Earlier this year, Regan also negotiated a deal with Duke Energy to clean up toxic coal byproducts at six power plants and the state. The list goes on.

Regan is uniquely suited to address the intersectionality of climate change and social injustice. He was also chair of North Carolina’s environmental justice subcommittee of its Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice.  The ramifications of a warming planet and changing climate often hit hardest for people of color and other marginalized communities. Addressing this is a major point of the Paris Agreement’s preamble, as noted above. Systemic changes are needed for both, and Regan’s experience working for environmental justice will help ensure the EPA’s role in making progress toward that. 

Jennifer Granholm is Joe Biden’s pick for energy secretary, where she will oversee and lead research into electric vehicle technology and infrastructure, renewable energy, decarbonized buildings, carbon capture and nuclear power. As Governor of the state of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm worked with the Obama administration on the 2009 auto-industry bailout, pushing major manufacturers toward green technology investment and providing incentives for automobile companies to invest in clean energy technologies such as battery storage. 

Granholm’s track record of advocating for a shift from fossil fuels to renewables, electric vehicle adoption and a clean energy economy will infuse new life into climate legislation under the Biden Administration.

Brenda Mallory, an environmental lawyer, will run the Council on Environmental Quality, the White House’s environmental office, under Joe Biden. Mallory has a long resume working in the federal government under both democratic and republican administrations. While working in the Obama administration, Mallory helped establish new national monuments and since, has fought against the Trump administration’s attempts to dismantle them. In addition to her work on land conservation, Mallory’s most recent role as director of regulatory policy at the Southern Environmental Law Center makes her uniquely suited to tackle environmental justice.

The council is expected to expand its focus on issues of environmental justice under Ms. Mallory in addition to its traditional role of coordinating environment policy throughout the government, other people close to the presidential transition said.

Ms. Mallory, who currently serves as the director of regulatory policy at the Southern Environmental Law Center, a watchdog group, has worked on both pollution and land conservation issues throughout her career, including helping to create new national monuments under the Obama administration and fighting the dismantlement of those monuments under the Trump administration. 

With the climate crisis being intrinsically tied to racial inequality, the CEQ is expected to ramp up efforts to address environmental justice under the Biden administration. Mallory’s long history of working to protect public lands as well her position’s renewed focus on environmental justice, the CEQ will play a major role in addressing Paris Agreement goals of reducing carbon emissions while doing so with respect to human rights and equality.

Policies

In addition to the faces you’ll see spurring change at the federal level, there will also be a slew of new legislation and topics that are sure to pop up on your news feed in the coming months following the United States’ recommitment to Paris. Here are just a few examples of what you’ll see, and how that ties back to the goals of Paris.

The topic of protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge isn’t new, in fact, the conversation surrounding oil and gas development there has been ongoing since 1977. The Refuge resurfaced when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 opened it to drilling, and in August 2020, the Bureau of Land Management officially opened 1.5 million acres of the Refuge to oil and gas companies. On January 6, 2021, a lease sale was held, but, thankfully, it attracted only three lonely bidders. What. A. Dud. (Read more about that, here.) Again, the fact that interest was so low can be traced back to a cultural shift toward addressing climate change as well as financial institutions getting on board with the fact that renewable energy is the future. Protecting the Arctic can make massive strides toward reducing carbon emissions—nearly 25 percent of the United States’ total output comes from public lands—as detailed in the Paris Agreement. 

While the Arctic survived a mass sell-off earlier this month, the only way to safeguard it from future exploitation by the oil and gas industry is to permanently protect it, an action you could see from Joe Biden upon taking office.

The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act is the result of county governments working together with stakeholders to protect public lands in the state of Colorado. The bill seeks to protect 400,000 acres of public land in the state, establishing new wilderness areas and protecting existing outdoor recreation opportunities. It would permanently withdraw 200,00 acres in the Thompson Divide area from future federal oil and gas leasing, set aside nearly 100,000 acres of land in the White River National Forest and 61,000 acres in the San Juan Mountains for wilderness and similar designations.  On top of that, it would create the first-ever National Historic Landscape at Camp Hale, famous training grounds of the 10th Mountain Division ski troops in World War II. In addition, the CORE Act also offers a methane waste prevention pilot program, helping to deal with existing emissions in the state on top of protecting lands from new leases.

 

POW has been a huge advocate of the CORE Act, as it would protect hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land from being used for fossil fuel extraction and therefore carbon emissions, and safeguard awe-inspiring outdoor playgrounds for recreational use in the state of Colorado. Getting rid of oil and gas extraction on public lands is a no-brainer solution to meeting the goals of Paris, as 20 to 25 percent of the United States’ emissions come from fossil fuel development on federal land. Protecting public lands is climate action. 

 

The Bill passed through the House of Representatives in 2019 but got stuck in the mud when it made it to the Senate. The House attached the CORE Act as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in order to give it one last opportunity to be passed this year, however, it wasn’t included in the final NDAA which the House passed in December. Although the bill was not included in the NDAA, its last chance to be passed in the 116th Congress, with Democratic control of the Senate leading up to the beginning of the 117th Congress, the CORE Act is anything but dead. Hearkening back to POW’s Theory of Change, the efforts of local legislators and passionate individuals drove the CORE Act through the House, and with continued support from those who understand the importance of protecting public lands, it has a real shot at crossing the finish line in the Senate when the new Congress convenes.

In addition to the monumental loss of life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, industries and businesses across the country, and world, are hurting. There have been bailouts for the airline industry and for fossil fuel companies. It’s imperative that clean energy becomes part of the conversation surrounding an economic stabilization package. Support is needed for the renewable energy industry, which is reeling from supply chain and project disruptions. Over three million American jobs in the clean energy sector are at risk. The economic disruption of the pandemic has caused emissions to drop, and while a deadly pandemic was never the sought-after path to reducing emissions, it has painted a picture of what a creative economic rebuild with clean energy at the forefront could look like. 

Joe Biden has repeatedly stated his intention to rebuild a more resilient economy that invests in clean energy infrastructure, addresses environmental justice and creates millions of new jobs. Biden’s economic strategy is sure to be a hot topic upon taking office and is the best strategy toward moving forward on the Paris Agreement. The voices of the Outdoor State can have a huge impact on this and it starts by taking action to urge the incoming administration to rebuild with clean energy.

The bottom line is the future of the Paris Agreement looks bright. Momentum is once again on its side, as the United States, the second-biggest global culprit of carbon emissions recommits to its goals. With a clear cultural shift taking place, financial support and technological innovation and the right political representation, carbon neutrality and a slowing of global temperature rise are once again in play. The first step occurs next week when the United States rejoins Paris.

This wraps up our Paris for Dummies series. We hope that we provided you with some useful information to paint a picture of why it’s so vital to rejoin Paris immediately upon Joe Biden’s inauguration. You can still take action to make sure your voice is heard by incoming Climate Envoy John Kerry. Click below to help Keep Paris The Priority.