The climate agreement reached last month by leaders of 195 nations presents Michigan’s policymakers with a stark choice: Become a clean energy leader or get left behind in the global transition to sustainable energy.
The international climate conference in Paris, known as COP21, brought together more heads of state than any other gathering in history, making it clear that climate action is a top global priority. This marks a turning point in addressing climate change and will only speed up the world’s transition away from fossil fuels as countries increase their commitments to get more power from sustainable sources.
Transitioning to clean energy is already underway, spurred by the fact that in many places (including Michigan) wind and solar cost less than building new fossil fuel generation. Clean energy is also growing worldwide. The world in 2013 used renewable energy for 22 percent of its energy supply, a remarkable increase from just 13 percent the year before.
But to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we need to speed up this shift to clean energy. There was a strong push at the Paris talks to set a goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050, a goal that has widespread backing from climate scientists. This is also the goal supported by the Michigan Climate Action Network, a growing coalition of groups working to advance climate action in our state.
Reaching 100 percent renewables by 2050 is ambitious but achievable. Stanford University researchers have documented how wind and solar can meet all of Michigan’s energy needs by 2050 while creating jobs and growing our economy. This shift will be helped along by investments from innovators like Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who recently announced they are putting billions of dollars toward advancing clean energy.
Michigan has what it takes to be a leader in the expanding clean energy economy, building on the same innovative spirit and skilled workforce that brought the world the automobile. But we need to take bold action now. Other states in our region have set strong goals and are reaping benefits as a result. Minnesota, for example, has a renewable energy standard of 25 percent by 2025 and already gets 15 percent of its electricity from wind.
Our lawmakers will play an important role in deciding whether Michigan leads on clean energy or gets left behind. Michigan’s current energy standard of 10 percent renewables plateaued this year, and our legislature is working on bills to set new renewable and efficiency goals. The energy bills that recently passed out of the House Energy Committee are a step in the right direction but still fall short of what is needed in Michigan to move forward on clean energy.
There has never been a better time to embrace clean energy. For the future of our children and for a strong Michigan, our leaders need to set clear targets for renewable energy.
Kate Madigan is a climate and energy policy specialist for the Michigan Environmental Council and coordinates the Michigan Climate Action Network. Visit miclimateaction.org for more information.
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