This week more than 190 countries adopted the most ambitious climate change agreement in history. The Paris Agreement sets up a long-term framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and should keep global temperature rise below the 2 degrees Celsius tipping point. Implications for infrastructure and the civil engineering profession are profound: the plan will drive private investment in renewable energy generation and distribution, facilities generating the dirtiest sources of fossil fuel will be decommissioned, and billions have been pledged on adapting infrastructure and communities to extreme weather events and sea-level rise.
For two weeks, top diplomatic negotiators from around world worked frantically to reach the Paris Agreement. There were times that major differences between U.N. super weights the United States and China almost plummeted the deal. The sticking point: how much developed countries would help (i.e. pay) for developing countries to comply with new emissions requirements and assist with climate change impacts already being felt. During the talks, Secretary John Kerry announced the U.S. would double its commitment to climate adaptation grants for developing countries.
The U.S. entered the talks with advantages and disadvantages. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which will require states across the U.S. to develop carbon reduction plans. In that regard, the U.S. already had a jumpstart on reductions back home. But with the CPP engrossed in court battles, combined with the Republican controlled Congress U.S. negotiators had to strike important balances in the final Agreement. Chief among those: ensuring the agreement was not called a “treaty,” which would require ratification by the Republican controlled Senate. In the end, the U.S. got almost everything they wanted from the deal.
While the legal path for the CPP remains unclear, one thing that’s certain is that the energy industry in the U.S. is undergoing a radical shift. This presents an exciting future of building new renewable energy infrastructure and rethinking the way we protect coastal and inland communities from extreme weather and sea level rise.