One hundred and ninety six countries reached a comprehensive climate agreement on Saturday, December 12 in Paris, France. This agreement calls for stopping the growth of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, followed by rapid reductions thereafter. It includes voluntary commitments by nations, to be updated every five years, to cut emissions and provides for monitoring and verification.
Achieving the global goals will require actions by countries and businesses and individuals, taken city by city, county by county, state by state, region by region, and country by country. The Paris climate talks saw unprecedented involvement from the private sector with over 2,000 businesses pledging to reduce their emissions, and 28 of the world’s wealthiest companies pledging to invest a combined $2 billion over the next five years in clean energy development.
“We are ready to fully participate in this critical work through fostering federal, state, regional, local and private sector cooperation—action where metropolitan Washington has been a leader” said David Snyder, Vice Mayor of the City of Falls Church and chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee. “Just as this issue is great, so too should be our commitment and cooperative effort.”
Montgomery County Council Vice President Roger Berliner, the Chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Climate, Energy, and Environment Policy Committee, fully agreed: “The metropolitan Washington region is a leader among global metro areas; we will continue to reduce emissions while investing in the economy and creating healthier, more livable communities.”
One recent example of the region’s leadership—the District of Columbia just received an award in Paris from C40 Citiesfor its groundbreaking wind power purchase agreement. The wind power purchase will reduce the District’s carbon footprint by 110,000 tons per year and save $45 million over the next 20 years.
In addition, area officials have been implementing action plans to achieve regional greenhouse gas emission reduction goals set in 2008. Metropolitan Washington now boasts the highest number of green buildings and the largest number of participants in EPA’s Green Power program among comparable metropolitan regions in the US. COG’s recent greenhouse gas emissions analysis shows that the region met its 2012 greenhouse gas reduction target, and that the actions and policies put in place will bring the region 1/3 of the way to its 2050 goal. COG is coordinating with its members to develop plans for additional cost-effective work needed to meet the long term goal.
While more work is required in the coming years and decades, the region’s leaders are not daunted by the challenge. In fact, successes such as the vast air quality improvements over the past two decades demonstrate that regional cooperation can achieve ambitious emissions reductions. The region has not experienced any code red ‘unhealthy’ air quality days in the past three summers, and in 2015, it recorded just five days when the region’s air quality exceeded healthy levels for ground-level ozone. In 1998, there were 67 such days.
Cleaning the air to improve public health was achieved through a broad and cooperative partnership between all levels of government and the private sector, similar to what is required to meet the climate challenge. Notably, many actions to improve air quality, such as more efficient vehicles and increased renewable energy, also help achieve climate change goals.
With a renewed commitment, the metropolitan Washington region is prepared to do its part to reach the historic goals set out in Paris.