Today marked the start of the two-week long United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21), where leaders of 150 nations will discuss global warming, specifically, how the world can collectively prevent it. The last conference on climate change was in 2009 in Copenhagen, and was widely regarded as a failure for having produced very little progress between the world's biggest power players. But a lot has changed in subsequent years, and the mood going into Paris is different. For one, in the years since 2009 there has been progress made in talks between the United States and China, an unprecedented milestone for the world's two leading economies — and top polluters. Here are nine more reasons we're (guardedly) optimistic about this meeting.
1. Coal Shows Signs That It's on the Way Out
Coal, the biggest source of man-made C02 emissions, is in a state of decline as trade prices continue to fall all around the world. Global coal usage declined 2.3 percent in the first nine months of 2015, meanwhile large coal market nations, such as China, continue to grow their electricity consumption even as they move away from coal power.
2. …While Solar and Wind Continue to Become More Affordable
"The cost of solar energy is plummeting. The cost of wind energy is falling," John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy told Public Radio International. "The ability to increase energy efficiency in ways that reduce emissions continues to impress." Indeed, according to the White House, "the average cost of a solar electric system has dropped by 50 percent" since the beginning of 2010.
3. Financial Investment in Climate is High, and increasing.
Global financial investments in the future of the climate increased by 18% last year worldwide, according to a report by Climate Policy Initiative. Even more encouraging is that the private sector was responsible for the lion's share of finances with an estimated $243 billion, while public finance was $148 billion. This was bolstered on day one of COP21 by the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and 25 other investors who pledged money to support clean energy research.
4. Keystone Pipeline XL Was Blocked
When President Barack Obama blocked the Keystone XL pipeline, he acknowledged it was primarily a symbolic move: "For years, the Keystone Pipeline has occupied what I, frankly, consider an overinflated role in our political discourse," Obama said in his official statement." It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter. And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others." Still, it's the kind of symbolic move that the President can bring to COP21 to show the other members that the U.S. does mean business.
5. Climate Change Denial Is Pretty Much Exclusive to the U.S.
The United States is the only democracy in the world where it's not outlandish to have key members of government deny that climate change is happening. The former President of The Pew Center on Global Climate Change told the National Journal "there is no party-wide view like this anywhere in the world that I am aware of." A paper published at the University of Bergen in Norway backs this: "The U.S. Republican Party is an anomaly in denying anthropogenic climate change."
6. The Pope Is on Board
Pope Francis, with his high approval ratings from folks inside and outside the church has made the state of the environment one of his top priorities. "The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish,” he wrote in his landmark environmental encyclical.
7. India, a Leading Greenhouse Gas Emitter, Paves the Way for Solar
The Indian Prime Minister and French President have joined forces to introduce a strong solar energy initiative that would see over 100 countries along the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, where solar resources are high, joining forces in moving toward a cleaner future. It is a marked policy shift away from dirty energy for one of the world's fastest growing economies.
8. Ethiopia Aims to Become Carbon Neutral
Ethiopia has outlined how it would make greenhouse gases a thing of the past and become carbon neutral — following a similar declaration by Costa Rica — and taking an ambitious leadership role on climate change in Africa.
9. Brazil Leads The Way in Reversing Deforestation
A study based on the satellite images of Brazil's tropical forests show that the South American nation has reduced the rate of deforestation in the Amazon by nearly 80 percent since 2003. Tropical deforestation is a major driving force in climate change, but the study asserts that if the rest of the world follows Brazil's lead, deforestation could be cut in half by 2020.