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Can We Do Without a Global Climate Treaty?

Jianan Yu/Reuters

Jianan Yu/Reuters

Don’t give up on a global climate treaty, but don’t count on it any time soon. I have seen these negotiations up close. Every country trots out its list of reasons why it needs more time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the negotiations become a race to the bottom.

But once countries feel confident in their ability to simultaneously reduce emissions and grow their economies, they will begin to negotiate with the objective of reaching an agreement rather than negotiating to delay.

Which is why the extraordinary progress made by the United States in reducing emissions and growing our economy is critical to the negotiating process. Between 2005 and 2013, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions declined by 10 percent while real G.D.P. grew 11 percent. And more good news lies ahead with the expected closure of dozens of coal-fired utilities and a significant increase in automobile fuel economy on the back of strengthened regulations. Energy efficiency, renewable energy and natural gas all show the way to reducing emissions while adding jobs.

Unfortunately, the United States cannot solve climate change on its own, as the country now accounts for only 15 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. A strong international treaty that limits global emissions is absolutely necessary. But reaching agreement on a treaty will happen only when countries believe they can meet their targets without compromising economic growth, especially for developing countries whose citizens have yet to enjoy the prosperity of the West.

Click here to read more from this September 30, 2014 New York Times discussion.

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