One year ago, diplomats representing more than 190 countries finalized the world’s most ambitious and achievable agreement to combat climate change at the annual United Nations climate conference (COP21) in Paris. I was honored to lead a delegation of 10 senators to bolster the U.S. commitment to fighting global climate change, an existential threat to us all. The momentum coming out of France felt unstoppable, with every party committed to reducing carbon emissions.
Over the course of 2016, additional commitments and critical steps by countries around the world have taken the Paris agreement from concept to enactment.
Such an ambitious global goal can only be achieved through strategic action at the local level. President Barack Obama and others have said we are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change, but the last who can do something about it.
I’m motivated to fight global climate change in part because it increasingly affects our beautiful state of Maryland. Recently, Annapolis began experiencing routine tidal flooding. Today’s generations of Smith Islanders may be the last as a rising Chesapeake Bay encroaches further ashore each year. And blue crabs are threatened by warming waters.
The good news is that acting to prevent the worst effects of climate change holds tremendous economic and job growth opportunities for Maryland and our nation. The world looks to the U.S. for climate leadership. They look at the strength of our policies as signs of our commitment. They look to our private sector and academia for clean energy solutions to power the world.
Maryland is at the forefront of U.S. leadership in technological innovation. For example, the University of Maryland, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and a number of local companies, like Redox Energy, are leading the way in developing in-demand technologies for the global energy market.
In 2015, investment in renewable energy was nearly $350 billion worldwide, more than fossil fuel energy. Even though gas and oil have hit record low prices, current and projected prices for renewables are low too, making clean energy solutions remarkably competitive.
One year after Paris — at the COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco, last month — several dozen world leaders discussed their countries’ plans to invest and develop clean energy technologies and move away from carbon. This includes numerous developing countries that are working to provide expanded first-time access to electricity for all citizens. Developed countries should help developing countries move clean energy solutions forward; imagine the immense benefit to humanity and the planet if we can achieve more energy for more people by bypassing fossil fuels.
Forward-thinking domestic climate change and clean energy policy — including substantial investments in clean energy, research, development and production — has made the U.S. an incubator for investment and entrepreneurship. Creating a robust domestic market helps companies develop credible track records, skilled workforces and scalable products to export around the world to a market hungry for clean energy solutions. This is where domestic action intersects with U.S. “climate diplomacy.”
It has been a bumpy road to reach this intersection. The U.S. has a complicated relationship with the world when it comes to cooperating to combat climate change. The rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, for example, severely strained a wide range of diplomacy issues for the Bush administration. Secretary of State Colin Powell remarked later that America’s departure and the criticism we received demonstrated, “that everything the American president does has international repercussions.”
Secretary Powell is right. President Obama’s leadership and convening power helped bring the world together in support of the Paris agreement.
Understandably, President-elect Donald Trump’s comments during the campaign about climate change generally and the Paris agreement specifically have alarmed world leaders, climate scientists and environmental activists. Disturbingly, his cabinet nominations — from the Environmental Protection Agency to the State and Energy departments — include individuals who have a history of denying or questioning climate change and the science behind it. In truth, the world expects the U.S. to remain engaged and lead by example against this common threat to humanity.
On so many issues of importance to the American people, it holds true that when the U.S. is not at the table, our interests are harmed and other countries will fill the void. So I strongly encourage Mr. Trump to embrace the view that U.S. energy policy — and economic policy — should support the goals of the Paris agreement. Doing so will support the domestic production and use of clean energy technology in America and countries around the world, which will power our futures by reaping the benefits of more jobs and a growing GDP.
Our national security, economic security and energy security are intertwined. In the Senate, I will continue to fight to ensure that when it comes to addressing a changing climate, the United States keeps looking — and moving — forward. It’s one of the most important things we can do for future generations.
Ben Cardin (Twitter: @SenatorCardin) is a United States senator for Maryland, serving as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and as a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.