Arlington Nobel prize-winning author Albert Schweizer once wrote that “Example is not the main thing in influencing others — it is the only thing.”
This truth is crucial to keep in mind as world leaders prepare to assemble in Paris this December to negotiate a new agreement to tackle global warming. As the country responsible for more climate-changing emissions in the atmosphere than any other, the U.S. has a moral obligation to influence and lead at these December talks.
The good news, according to a new Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center report, is that, with Virginia’s help, the U.S. is poised to lead by example. In the next decade, Virginia is on track to cut as much as 22 billion pounds of coal emissions annually.
The report, Path to the Paris Climate Conference, documents expected carbon pollution reductions from existing state-level and federal policies by 2025, including renewable energy standards, fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, and regional and state-based carbon caps. Nationwide, state and federal policies now underway can reduce carbon pollution 27 percent below 2005 levels. That’s significant. It is equivalent to the amount of pollution the entire nation of Germany — the world’s 6th largest polluter — produces every year.
The biggest slice of these reductions will come from the Clean Power Plan, the proposed federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants expected to be finalized this summer. The plan requires power plant owners to reduce emissions by 38 percent in Virginia, and accelerate the transition to clean energy sources such as wind and solar. The Clean Power Plan is a floor for action — not a ceiling. Virginia can and should do more to reduce global warming pollution beyond minimum federal requirements.
The report comes as evidence of climate change’s devastating impacts here and across the globe continues to mount. 2014 was the hottest year in recorded history. So far, 2015 is shaping up to be even hotter. Here in Virginia, this impact is happening. And all across the country, climate change is exacerbating weather extremes, contributing to drought, heat waves, forest fires, flooding and rising sea levels.
With the backing of Virginia, the U.S. can use its own example to influence world leaders at the Paris Climate Conference to take climate change strategies to the next level.
State Sen. Barbara A. Favola represents District 31. Nicole Guilfoyle is Environment Virginia’s Global Warming Solutions organizer.