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January 31, 2018

It wasn’t a surprise that climate change didn’t get a mention in the State of the Union last night, even though Trump talked about natural disasters which are growing more frequent and being worsened by climate change. The Trump administration has been systematically attacking U.S. climate and environmental policies that are meant to protect our air, water, food and planet, and propping up “beautiful clean coal” which is simply a myth. Resisting these attacks is important and necessary work. Even and perhaps especially during times when climate policies are under attack, having a vision for the world we want to build is vital.

Later tonight there is an event planned that has been billed in part as a response to the State of the Union and in part as a time to come together and map a way forward for climate change advocacy. So what do we need to be doing between now and 2050 if we’re going to meet the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming to 1.5°C? How do we meet these goals in light of sustainable development and equity? And what do we need to see in a U.S. climate policy?

Here are seven things we should be doing now:

  1. Invest in Renewable Energy: We need to immediately begin a rapid decarbonization of our economy and invest in clean, community-owned renewable energy. We need to improve energy efficiency. It’s way too late to be greenwashing dirty forms of energy. We also need to be supporting policies to address energy poverty in developing countries.
  2. Make Sure the U.S. Does Its Fair Share: Equity is a key part of the Paris Agreement, as well as the UN Convention on climate change. No individual country can address climate change alone. Everyone is going to have to put in their fair share of effort. For wealthy countries like the U.S., which has emitted more climate pollution than any other country, that means going farther and faster than poorer countries. So if the world needs to reach essentially zero emissions by around 2050 – and we do in order to meet the Paris goals – the U.S. should be reaching that milestone earlier.
  3. Support Climate Finance: In addition to cutting our emissions faster, the U.S. also needs to support poorer countries’ transitions to cleaner economies, and their efforts to adapt to ever more severe climate impacts. We’re so late in acting on climate change that developing countries have to do much more than is fair, considering how little they have emitted and the development challenges they still face. The U.S. has a moral obligation to support their transition – and it is also a climate imperative.
  4. Protect and Restore Native Ecosystems: Forests and natural ecosystems store huge amounts of carbon. Enhancing and restoring these ecosystems would help enhance these natural carbon removals, which will be a key part in meeting the Paris climate goals.
  5. Re-envision Our Food System: Food security is a fundamental human right. By 2050 the world will need to feed nine billion people. But industrial agriculture is major contributor to climate change. While we produce enough food to feed everyone, nearly 800 million people are hungry and malnourished. We need to change our systems for the production, distribution and consumption of food so that they support food security and healthy communities, and protect the climate and environment.
  6. Protect Human Rights: Respect for human rights is a fundamental part successful climate action. Countries including the U.S. need to be thinking about how to ensure human rights are respected and protected as climate policies are developed and implemented.
  7. Make A Just Transition: This kind of change is possible and necessary, but it will not be easy. Many workers whose jobs are tied to the fossil fuel industry and other highly polluting sectors will need support and retraining as they to transition to a new livelihoods. An equitably managed transition must also go beyond support for individual workers. It must encompass the redevelopment of entire communities that will be drastically affected by a transition away from old, dirty industries. This is a fundamental part of climate policy and needs to be the core of any major climate change policy proposal.

The Trump administration is dangerous not only because of its concrete attacks on climate policy, but because they have shifted the goalposts: in comparison to their rhetoric, any acknowledgement of climate change seems like a victory. The goal, though, can’t just be to improve on Donald Trump or even Barack Obama’s climate policies. The goal has to be to stop climate change in its tracks, and to build a more just world. Conversations on just how to do that have never been more important.