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Strong Climate Action Requires Moving Away From Fossil Fuels

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Looking ahead towards a next round of global commitments to tackle climate change, the scientific consensus is that we need strong action. Climate change is an unprecedented challenge. And that means we need innovative and far-reaching solutions. As governments prepare for the next round of international climate discussions in Warsaw next week, the question is whether we will see a robust new international agreement in 2015 and strong action on the ground around the world to curb climate change. We need our leaders to act. And when it comes to climate change, action means cleaning up polluters, stopping dirty energy, moving ahead with clean energy and preparing our communities for the harm that climate change is already causing.

The bottom line on the dangers of climate change has been clear for many years. The past few years of unusually extreme weather confirm that climate change is a concern of the here and now. Communities across America and around the world have felt the pain of flooding and debilitating droughts that are typical of climate change. In 2012, there were 11 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States -- the 2nd costliest year on record. In China, the air pollution has reached such extreme levels that leaders are looking at a number of solutions including a cap on coal consumption.

Some economic and government leaders are working to develop a better understanding of the risks and costs of climate change both in the United States and globally. Prominent U.S. business leaders have just started a new effort called “Risky Business” to evaluate the economic risks of climate change in the United States. And numerous governments have launched a new global effort to help develop a healthy new climate economy. But we don’t need to wait for more analysis. Procrastination is not our friend when it comes to dealing with climate change.

The release of the most recent scientific report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that humans are causing climate change and that we are already feeling the harm. We anticipate that the next IPCC report will reflect recent research showing that climate change is making it harder for crops to thrive globally. With such clear information, today’s leaders will bear direct responsibility if we keep moving ahead with business as usual. Leaders in government and industry who have consistently failed to act are building themselves a legacy of responsibility for climate change.

It is time for our world leaders to step up and face the reality that they own the climate change issue. No one wants to be responsible for a disaster. And fewer and fewer people will want to align themselves with those who stick their heads in the sand and deny reality rather than grappling with how to curb the pollution causing climate change.

So in the next round of international climate negotiations in Warsaw and in communities around the world, we face hard choices about shifting our economies from fossils fuels to clean energy. We can do this in a way that ensures energy access, security and prosperity. This shift will mean policies that advance clean energy. And in addition, such a shift must include standing up to the entrenched fossil fuel industry and changing the way we power our economies. Limiting carbon pollution from power plants. Capping use of coal. Stopping expansion of tar sands oil extraction. Rejecting dirty energy projects such as the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Moving to a clean energy economy comes down to these types of decisions that move us away from dirty energy.

With the clear knowledge that we have today of climate change, overt climate deniers will be held responsible. Even more, those leaders who neglected to step up and move aggressively to curb climate pollution both through stopping dirty energy as well as putting clean energy in place will also be held responsible. In a world of rapid climate change, we cannot afford an “all of the above” energy plan. Instead we need to move off of fossil fuels as rapidly as possible and move into clean energy choices. 

Leaders who step forward and try to solve deep problems such as climate change put themselves on the right side of history. This is the kind of leadership we need in Warsaw.

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