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New Politics for Clean Energy

Political leaders gathered last week at the UN to sign the Paris climate agreement concluded in December. But implementation is surely the tough part, not least because governments need a new approach to an issue that is highly complex, long term, and global in scale.

NEW YORK – The diplomats have done their job, concluding the Paris climate agreement in December. And political leaders gathered last week at the United Nations to sign the new accord. But implementation is surely the tough part. Governments need a new approach to an issue that is highly complex, long term, and global in scale.

At its core, the climate challenge is an energy challenge. About 80% of the world’s primary energy comes from carbon-based sources: coal, oil, and gas. When burned, they emit the carbon dioxide that causes global warming. By 2070, we need a world economy that is nearly 100% carbon-free to prevent global warming from running dangerously out of control.

The Paris agreement recognizes these basic facts. It calls on the world to cut greenhouse-gas emissions (especially CO2) to net-zero levels in the second half of the century. To this end, governments are to prepare plans not only to the year 2030 (the so-called Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs), but also to mid-century (the so-called Low-Emission Development Strategies, or LEDS).

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