Climate deal to be signed amid 'faster' global progress, Moniz says

The US is on track to meet its goal to reduce carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020. But the global climate deal to be signed Friday is just a start, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says. 

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz speaks Wednesday April 20 in Washington, in a discussion about climate change policy. The event was hosted by The Christian Science Monitor and sponsored by Arizona State University.

As leaders from around the globe get ready to sign an historic climate agreement in New York this week, US officials say the country is already on track to meet its goal to reduce carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020. Still, the United States must accelerate to reach its 2025 emissions goals under the deal, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Wednesday.

“Roughly speaking, the pace of reducing our carbon intensity will need to double by 2025 relative to this decade’s pace, so we do need to pick it up,” Dr. Moniz said. “I think there will be many components to that.”

But already, a lot is going well globally, Moniz said at a climate event in Washington hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. He cited the pledges by many nations to reduce emissions under the new agreement, to be signed in New York on Earth Day, Friday.

“This is going a lot faster than many had expected,” Moniz said.

It’s just that the pace will need to pick up still further. He voiced optimism that this goal is achievable, saying the legislative and technological building blocks are in place to transition to a low-carbon economy.

One of those building blocks is simply the momentum of investment.

As countries around the world work to meet the carbon emissions reduction targets they agreed to at international climate talks in Paris last December, the market for clean energy technology will continue to grow, energy experts say. Consequently, the price of renewable energy should continue to drop, making it more accessible for developing countries as well as in America.

The price of solar and onshore wind energy and LED lighting has decreased between 40 to 90 percent over the past six or seven years alone, Moniz said at Wednesday’s event, which was sponsored by Arizona State University.

The energy secretary said that, beyond innovation, what’s needed is investment in deploying new technologies and bringing them faster to the marketplace. One example, experts say, could be building more charging stations to help electric vehicles go mainstream.

In the United States, policies that promote energy efficiency standards for appliances, equipment, buildings, and vehicles will be an important part of the country’s efforts to reduce its emissions, Moniz said. Meanwhile, a new round of technological innovation in the realm of nuclear power and carbon capture could also contribute to efforts to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

When asked whether he believes the election of a Republican President could derail the country’s commitment to climate change, the secretary expressed confidence that US leaders will continue to work to reduce carbon emissions in the future.

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“Ultimately, mother nature will keep speaking to all of us, and public opinion will continue to move in the direction of understanding that we do need a response to climate change,” Moniz said. “I really believe that after the heat of the very partisan divide, we will continue to see solutions that drive us to a low-carbon economy.”

What’s more, the secretary noted that he does not think the Obama administration needs a “plan B” for its Clean Power Plan prodding states to reduce electric-utility emissions.

In February, the Supreme Court ruled to halt the implementation of the Clean Power Plan until the legal challenges against the rules are settled. The plan is the cornerstone of Obama's efforts to combat climate change, and is critical to meeting the US pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris climate agreement. Currently, 27 states are challenging the rules.

“I think that the rules have been crafted in a way to be sustained,” said Moniz. “The state implementation plans aren’t due until 2018, and we expect this issue to be resolved well before then, so we’re quite confident,” Moniz continued.

Still, the secretary said that the Clean Power Plan, while important, is just one component of the President’s Climate Action Plan, which was launched in 2013. Other small actions like increasing the energy efficiency of microwave ovens and other appliances can significantly reduce the amount of carbon released into the earth’s atmosphere.

The cumulative carbon the government expects to have avoided by 2030 will reach almost 3 gigatons, just through appliance efficiency standards, the secretary said.  

Despite the progress, Moniz says he’s convinced that eventually, carbon reduction will need to be implemented through federal legislation.

“We have the technologies in hand,” Moniz said. “But very deep decarbonization is going to require more arrows in the quiver, and ultimately, will require a legislative, economy-wide approach.”

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