In last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama’s remarks on climate change underscore the importance of national next steps après COP21.
While he didn’t overtly make new, specific pledges for climate action, Obama did place those in play in context under the second of his speech’s four main points, on innovation. Building on his premise that “many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative,” he queried “how do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?” Speaking of climate change, he (like John Kerry at COP21) Obama asked “why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?”
He summarized initiatives to date as follows:
Seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history. Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power. On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal — in jobs that pay better than average. We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy — something environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support. Meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly sixty percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.
The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2015 provides some stats to back this second statement up. It reports that the solar industry has added workers “at a rate nearly 12 times faster than the overall economy and accounting for 1.2% of all jobs created in the U.S. over the past year. … resulting in nearly 115,000 domestic living-wage jobs.” As of November 2015, the solar industry employs 208,859 solar workers, representing a growth rate of 20.2% during the past year. (And read this study by Marc Jacobsen of Stanford University estimating that the US can fully replace its fossil fuel infrastructure with 100% renewable energy by 2050, with economic benefits including a net gain of two million long-term jobs (defined as jobs lasting at least 40 years)).
President Obama stated unequivocally that “we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy.” Referring to fossil fuel subsidies and the US government’s role in providing them via public lands leased for mining and drilling, he stated:
Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future — especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels. That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. That way, we put money back into those communities and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.
The Center for American Progress estimated last year that 24% of the US energy-related GHGs come from fossil fuels extracted on federal land and water.
Putting the US in the lead to transition away from fossil fuels to renewables is in line with the Paris Agreement’s stated objective. Article 2.1(c) requires Parties to “mak[e] finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions.” Article 4.1 mandates “reach[ing] global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible,… and undertak[ing] rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.” Both of these goals are means for attaining the new agreement’s long-term goal of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.”