The Spotlight

What COP21 Means For Renewables

  01 Dec 2015  |    
Beginning this week, world leaders are gathering in Paris to flesh out a legally-binding agreement on climate—an unprecedented feat that, if accomplished, would not doubt significantly influence countries’ commitments to curbing the progress of climate change.

The 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP21), also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, takes place November 30 to December 11. This conference is significant: it is the culminating step in a decades-long international effort to address climate issues—an effort sustained through past COP initiatives such as the Kyoto Protocol, Montreal Action Plan, and Green Climate Fund.

As country leaders, government delegates, NGOs, and members of civil society convene to debate ways to reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy is sure to be a mainstay in the conversation. In 2013, alone, the U.S. emitted 6,673 million metric tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses—31% of that coming from electricity generation and another 27% from the transportation sector 1 . Renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind, hydro, and biofuel, which emit significantly fewer greenhouse gases (if any at all), are the smarter alternatives to the use of the world’s depleted, polluting, fossil fuel reserves.

Ahead of the conference, many countries are already investing in renewable energy—at home and abroad. In early October, German Chancellor Angela Merkel committed more than $2.5B to the development of clean energy projects in India 2 . This German-Indian cooperation embodies a larger global trend: in 2014, worldwide green energy investment increased by 17% to $270B. In the U.S., investment in renewables has reached an all-time high of close to $40B 3
Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance, March 2015

So what does COP21 mean for the U.S.? It most likely indicates the continuation of this green energy investment high—much of that money coming from large corporations. As renewable energy is increasingly considered by world leaders as a vital element of a comprehensive climate plan, investors’ confidence grows. Companies like Walmart are solidly on the green investment bandwagon. Currently, Walmart has installed 105 megawatts of solar energy, qualifying it as the largest solar power generator in the U.S 4 . Likewise, 96% of S&P 500 companies are considered to be actively working to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 5 .

This greening of the American business community is considerable. It means continued economic stability and vitality for the U.S. It means more jobs in renewable energy fields. It means cheaper electricity rates and transportation costs for consumers. And at the most rudimentary level, it means a cleaner, more stable environment for all.

Scientists and concerned followers of climate action agree: meaningful international policy could prove essential as the second half of the 21st century threatens to bring with it an unacceptable 2°C increase in global ambient temperature. As COP21 progresses, international leaders have an unparalleled opportunity to write renewable energy into law. In doing so, they will secure for the U.S. a competitive energy economy, and a secure, prosperous, sustainable future.

Megan is currently an intern at the American Council On Renewable Energy and a senior at The George Washington University. Her major is International Affairs, with a concentration in International Environmental Studies and a minor in Sustainability. Prior to working with ACORE, Megan interned at the Tropical Science Center in Monteverde, Costa Rica and the Office of the Mayor in her hometown, Idaho Falls, ID. Megan has a keen interest in domestic energy policy and sustainability; she hopes to continue her work with clean energy upon graduating in spring 2016.

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