When 195 nations adopted the Paris Climate Agreement last December, the deal was that it would formally go into effect after 55 countries, accounting for at least 55 percent of global emissions, ratified it. No one was sure how long that would take, but many figured that, as with previous agreements, it could take years. In fact, it took less than 300 days. As a result, the agreement will enter into force on November 4 — eight years to the day after Barack Obama was elected to the presidency.
Securing an ambitious global climate agreement was unquestionably an important milestone for President Obama. He and other world leaders deserve tremendous credit for getting it done, as do the climate activists around the world who prodded them into action. But this agreement, important as it is, actually represents a new starting line for what will be a decades-long global climate challenge. Acknowledging the problem and setting goals isn’t the same as solving it. Only by aggressively replacing dirty fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy sources will the ambitions of Paris be realized. At an international level, that progress will come from actions like the news that 190 countries just agreed on a plan to reduce emissions from air travel.
Progress, however, can’t be limited to global or even national action — it needs to happen at every level in both the public and private sectors. And that is exactly what we’re seeing.
Last month, for instance, the Los Angeles City Council directed the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to develop a plan for powering itself entirely with electricity from 100 percent renewable energy. The motion, which passed 12–0, declared that “Los Angeles has an opportunity to re-create its utility in a way that recognizes the potential for a fossil-free future, demonstrates global leadership in its commitment to clean energy, and protects ratepayers from the increasing costs of carbon-based fuels.”
This is a big deal: The nation’s second-largest city and largest municipal utility are working on a plan to bring clean, renewable energy to 4,000,000 people. That’s exciting, but it’s not unique. So far, 17 other cities across the country, both large (San Diego and Salt Lake City) and small (Georgetown, TX, and Greensburg, KS), have committed to being powered by 100 percent clean energy (you can read the Sierra Club’s report with case studies on 10 of them here).
Now consider that nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population lives in cities. Also consider that, globally, cities hold more than half of the world’s population. This is fertile ground for innovative solutions, whether it’s committing to renewable energy or implementing transportation solutions that can take advantage of that energy, such as GenZe electric bikes and scooters, Scoot electric scooter fleets, and Proterra electric buses — not to mention the newest generation of electric cars. Whether we’re generating it or using it, renewable energy’s compelling economics are a persistent and prevailing tailwind for climate solutions.
That tailwind isn’t limited to cities, either. It’s pushing more corporations to adopt a 100 percent renewable energy goal. In just the past few weeks, Apple, General Motors, and Bank of America all made that commitment and joined the RE100 global initiative of 81 (and counting) corporations. These companies represent brands that touch all of our lives, whether it’s buying a coffee at Starbucks, putting together a bookcase from Ikea, or posting a family photo to Facebook.
So while we can, and should, cheer the success of global climate agreements like the Paris agreement and national initiatives like the Clean Power Plan, let’s not forget that the clean energy revolution is happening across the board. With the Paris Climate Agreement, the whole world has acknowledged where we need to go. From this point, the only real limits to how we get there will be our creativity and our commitment to finding solutions at every level.