Why I'm optimistic world leaders will take bold action on climate

By Margie Alt
Executive Director, Environment America

It’s been somewhat overwhelming to be in Paris for the U.N. climate change conference, both because so much is happening in support of strong action to slow global warming, and because so much has been laid bare about what’s at stake across the world if we fail to act. But it’s also been inspiring to see such a wide array of voices calling for climate solutions. And I remain optimistic that world leaders will come together this week on a meaningful agreement to drastically limit pollution and begin the transition to 100 percent pollution-free energy.

Despite what the fossil fuel industry and their allies in Congress would have world leaders believe, Americans are ready for tough global measures to stem the climate crisis. Everything I’ve seen here in Paris is consistent with polls showing that people from all over the world are, too.

As I’ve shared previously, city officials are already leading on climate. Cities are responsible for 70 percent of the world’s global warming pollution, and mayors and other local officials often bear the brunt of climate change impacts, from rising sea levels to floods to drought. We heard from many of the nearly 400 mayors from around the world who are committed to tracking and reducing their own contribution to the problem.

The public health community is also ready to act on climate. 1000 public health professionals from across the U.S. back the Clean Power Plan, agreeing with the leading medical journal The Lancet that climate change represents “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century” because it threatens more drought, more heat waves, more insect-borne disease, and dwindling drinking water supplies. In Paris, top public health officials from around the globe reiterated the need for action to protect vulnerable communities and future generations.

The business community is stepping up. It’s not a huge surprise that the businesses producing wind, solar, and other forms of clean energy that can replace polluting fossil fuels are ready at the plate. But they are far from the only leaders on climate solutions in the private sector. At the Paris Google office I heard from Google, Ikea, Unilever, and many more who are leading the charge for 100 percent clean renewable energy.

Businesses, community leaders, and Olympic champions are also coming together to protect the future of winter sports. In Paris, the mayor of Aspen, the CEO of ski-equipment maker Rossignol, Olympic snowboarder Seth Wescott and others spoke on a panel to highlight the need for action. They presented a petition to world leaders with signatures from 1,500 athletes, ski businesses, community leaders, and ski enthusiasts – because, as Snowriders International, among the non-profits dedicated to organizing the winter sports community on global warming solutions, says, “there’s powder in numbers.”

Congressional climate champions are speaking out. In between busy, high-stakes weeks in the U.S. Senate, ten senators traveled to Paris over the weekend to make clear that the current leaders in Congress are in the minority when it comes to views on climate action. As the delegation’s leader, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told the gathering of the world’s mayors: “I’m here to tell you that the United States’ leadership and its people fully support all the work that has been done here.”

My own Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) added, “The Republicans do not have the votes to overturn the president’s clean power rules. You can have 100 percent confidence that we have the president’s back.”

Any accord reached in the next handful of days won’t get us all the way to the 100 percent clean, renewable energy future we need, but I remain hopeful that it will be a strong start. I’m proud that Environment America has played a role in organizing citizens, public health professionals, businesses, and political leaders for less pollution and more clean energy. I'm humbled by all the support our members and activists have given us for the effort. And I’m privileged to get to work with so many allies across the country and the world, in Paris and beyond, for a healthy climate for future generations.