COP21: American Leadership at its Best

December 12, 2015
It was with great anticipation and a sense of high honor that I accepted the appointment to be a member of the official U.S. House of Representatives delegation to the climate summit in Paris. Unfortunately, the House was called to remain in Washington for critical budget votes. Paris evaporated but not my hopes because the summit, with the representation of 195 countries working to shape a plan that can change the course of history by reversing the trajectory of global temperatures to sustainable living, can succeed.

I’m proud of my country, President Obama and the work of his administration to think big and act boldly on shaping policies that are within longstanding law to address climate change.

This is American leadership at its best, but our global leadership is only as strong as our commitment at home. Our longstanding laws strengthen the U.S. case that we are a country that is fully committed to carry out our obligations and we keep our commitments.

The President’s Clean Power Plan is firmly grounded in the Clean Air Act amendments enacted by Congress in 1990.

The 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change allows the United States to lead on climate change response and ensure that other countries are transparent and accountable for their pollution.

In 2007, the Supreme Court upheld the authority of the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, and the EPA is required to regulate them if it finds they endanger public health, which it did in 2009.

Fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, another key part of the President’s climate plan, were established by Congress in 1975 and strengthened by Congress in 2007 to ensure the maximum feasible level of fuel economy is achieved.

The 2009 Waxman-Markey climate legislation passed by the House was the most sweeping legislation in our history to reduce carbon emissions through a nationwide cap-and-trade program and a requirement that 20 percent of our electricity come from renewable resources. The bill was predicted to bring a 17 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 but was filibustered in the Senate.

Because of efforts by the President and the states, we are now expected to reach the 2020 goal in the Waxman-Markey legislation. Thirty states today have renewable electricity standards in place, led by California’s 50 percent renewable requirement by 2030.

California’s leadership has been nothing short of extraordinary. Our academic institutions, innovators, entrepreneurs and businesses know that a clean energy future is an economic winner. We believe that public health, the health of the planet, and the health of our economic future are not mutually exclusive. As the seventh largest economy in the world, this belief is self-evident and an ambitious model to be replicated.

Our leadership is also bolstered by a moral imperative.

In his encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis challenged leaders to take responsibility for repairing the damage and reversing course.

With hope, he wrote: “…human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”

These are all powerful motivations to the countries around the world to take action, but perhaps the secret ingredient to closing the deal may be Paris herself. Her resolve is inspiring. Her resilience, irresistible. Parisians took 200 years to build one of the most acclaimed gothic cathedrals in the world, Notre Dame.

To the delegates, I’d say look out and look up and be inspired by your surroundings—the center of the 15th century Renaissance and the motivation for writers, artists and architects for centuries after.

Now in our time, agree to a plan to secure our planet. It will be the imprimatur of the 21st century.

Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18) is a Democrat representing Silicon Valley and a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. This commentary was published to Medium on December 12, 2015.