The US must lead in the fight against climate change

The US must lead in the fight against climate change
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The premise is simple: climate change is a global challenge and thus requires global solutions. The United States has a major leadership role to play in this fight, but the truth is that if we are fighting alone, we’ve already lost. A global approach to reducing emissions around the world is required. While international cooperation has always been used as a buzzword in climate discussions, previous attempts have fallen flat.

We live in a chaotic world with a multitude of challenges, but we cannot allow the future of our planet to be lost in the noise. Carbon emissions don’t stay confined within a nation’s borders, so emissions anywhere affect people everywhere. Any serious climate plan must include measures for global engagement because we cannot solve climate change, and its many effects, by ourselves. 

The United States produces approximately 15 percent of global carbon emissions, which by all means is a significant amount. However, this figure leaves 85 percent of emissions out of our hands, 30 percent of which come from China. While reaching net zero emissions in our own nation is a worthy goal, we can’t make global progress if we keep mitigation efforts within our borders. In fact, only 16 out of 197 countries signed on to the Paris climate accord are actually on track to meet their climate goals. Effects of climate change are felt in every corner of the world, so to help ourselves, we must help others too. The American Climate Contract, a platform introduced by our organization, recognizes this reality and presents a new way forward. 

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While climate change and emissions are the chief concern, energy poverty is also a serious problem globally. The American Climate Contract aims to help those at the frontlines of climate change and other environmental challenges because citizens of every country in the world need and deserve energy. By pursuing an innovation-based approach here at home, we can not only lower our own emissions, but also export new technologies abroad to industrializing countries with high levels of emissions. Industrializing countries do not produce energy as cleanly as we do here in the United States, so by innovating and creating new, clean technologies, we’re helping everyone, including the environment.

The benefits of global engagement don’t start and stop with technology, though. Exporting American energy, too, is beneficial — not only for our nation, but for nations who are dependent on authoritarian regimes such as Iran and Russia for their energy. Not only are those countries growing geopolitical threats, but American natural gas exports are significantly cleaner than Russian natural gas exports and have anywhere from 41 to 47 percent lower lifecycle emissions. Exporting natural gas, renewable technologies and energy infrastructure technology will benefit the U.S. economy and assist developing countries in lowering emissions and raising standards of living.

In addition to the national security component, it’s far easier to export technologies than it is to impose a domestic policy in another country. Instead of attempting to implement policy in an entirely different country with different politics, we can empower foreign governments with new technologies and cleaner energy sources. Not only is this more feasible, it’s more effective. That’s real American leadership.

Trying to address climate change without international cooperation would be a grave mistake. Past international agreements may have failed to live up to their promises, but that doesn’t mean collaboration doesn’t have merit. The United States has an opportunity to set a positive example for the rest of the world by promoting the increased development of innovative technologies and by producing cleaner energy for the world to use. This approach makes economic and environmental sense and improves countless lives while mitigating the effects of a changing climate. 

There’s little time to wait and every reason to work together. We can make a difference domestically, without a doubt, but to truly adapt to climate change, we are all in this together. 

Danielle Butcher is the executive vice president and chief operating officer at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).