Earth Day marks a significant climate change milestone

“To my compatriots, I have no hesitation in saying that each one of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the Bushveld.” – Nelson Mandela at his inauguration

As people around the globe observe Earth Day on April 22, world leaders are making history at the United Nations in New York. More than 100 countries will sign the Paris Agreement on climate change, representing their commitment to join it formally.

This marks a turning point in the story of our planet and may set a record for the largest number of signers to an international agreement in a single day. Moreover, last month, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping announced that the United States and China will sign the Paris Agreement on April 22 and formally join it this year.

We are confident other countries will do so too, with the intention of bringing this historic and ambitious agreement into force this year.

A greener future is already in sight. Leaders of countries and cities are adapting and innovating to move away from fossil fuels, and business is investing in a clean energy economy. The US is moving forward in its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by between 26% to 28% from 2005 levels by 2025.

We Americans are doing this by applying the most stringent fuel economy standards in our history, by increasing our solar energy generation twentyfold since 2009, and by proposed rules on everything from energy conservation standards for appliances to reductions in emissions of methane-rich gas from municipal solid waste landfills.

In my home state of New York, billions of dollars have been invested in cleaner, greener energy technologies. The state’s goals are ambitious, including a 40% reduction in state-wide emissions and 50% electricity generation from renewable sources – both by 2030.

At the local level, New York City is leading the charge and has already achieved a 19% reduction in citywide emissions since 2005 alone. Through its new Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, New York City is enhancing the protection of its coastal and critical infrastructure by making it resilient to climate-related events such as Superstorm Sandy, which ravaged New York’s coastline in 2012.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has set the city’s own target for reducing emissions at 80% lower by 2050 than 2005. Similarly impressive efforts are underway across the US at both the state and local levels.

Although we are taking significant climate action domestically, the US is also focused on international co-operation to address this global challenge. Our $500-million contribution last month to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) – the first tranche of the $3-billion US pledge to the fund – will help developing countries reduce carbon emissions and prepare for the effects of climate change, while also advancing our commitment to achieving the sustainable development goals – another major landmark agreement the world came together on last year.

One of the most successful environmental agreements of all time is the Montreal Protocol, which is phasing out ozone-depleting substances globally. It set the ozone layer on a path to recovery and prevented tens of millions of cases of skin cancer among other health, environmental and economic benefits. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which replace many of the ozone-depleting substances, do not harm the ozone layer, but they are greenhouse gases that in some cases can be thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. The US is working with partners to adopt an HFC reduction amendment to the Montreal Protocol this year, which could avoid a 0.5°C warming by the end of the century.

We also need international co-operation to change how we transport ourselves and goods. The aviation sector is responsible for 2% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The International Civil Aviation Organisation is aiming to achieve carbon neutral growth for international aviation by 2020.

South Africa has taken some impressive steps to help achieve the goals set out in Paris. For example, its renewable energy independent power producers procurement programme is a model for catalysing the power of the private sector to address climate challenges. American companies, the largest group of investors in this programme, have poured more than $300-million to date into projects in South Africa.

The impressive technological advances and rapidly decreasing costs of solar and wind power generation will allow South Africa to pursue economic development and a cleaner energy system at the same time. The US government itself is directly responsible for investing $400-million in the 100-megawatt Redstone concentrating solar power project in the Northern Cape.

As we build a stronger partnership with South Africa, we will achieve our shared climate change goals. Together we can do so much more – climate mitigation, research and adaptation, protecting and useshared ocean resources, and conserving South Africa’s biodiversity.

This Earth Day, with the signing of the Paris Agreement, is truly a cause for hope. It is also a reminder of our shared commitment to combat climate change. We must all seize on the momentum from Paris to build a clean energy future for ourselves, our children and grandchildren.

Patrick Gaspard is the United States ambassador to South Africa

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


Western Cape Judge Mushtak Parker faces second misconduct complaint

The Cape Bar Council says his conduct is ‘unbecoming the holding of judicial office’

‘My biggest fear was getting the virus and dying in...

South African Wuhan evacuee speaks about his nine-week ordeal

Border walls don’t stop viruses, but a blanket amnesty might

Why South Africa should consider amnesty for undocumented migrants in the time of the coronavirus outbreak.

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories