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Energy and Climate Change Conference 2015

Governor Richardson’s Remarks to Open the Energy and Climate Change Conference and Introduce Gina McCarthy

Welcome to the 15th National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment: Energy and Climate Change. I am honored to be the conference Chairman and delighted to open our proceedings.

It has been a very interesting year since I opened the Building Climate Solutions Conference.

Twelve months ago we were studying the just released first part of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC. That was the section which discussed the physical basis of climate change. Bottom line?

The climate science is settled.The IPCC report is just another part of the staggering body of scientific research that connects our energy choices to costly climate disruption. The report is consistent with several other authorities — such as the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The report brought stronger language and greater certainty about climate change and its risks. Just as we know that smoking causes cancer, we understand that human activity causes climate change.

In March, the second part of the Assessment report about impacts was released. Here the bottom line was that “the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans. The world, in many cases, is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate.”

Climate change is happening now and we are all feeling the effects. As the President noted in last week’s State of the Union, “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.  Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does – 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.”

The latest IPCC report finds that impacts from climate change are “widespread and consequential” and they are being felt on every continent and in our oceans. Over the past decade, the western United States experienced seven times more large-scale wildfires than it did in the 1970s. Climate change has made it much more likely that we will suffer severe droughts like the ones that recently swept across California and my home state of New Mexico.

In April, the fourth part of the Assessment on Mitigation showed that “global emissions of greenhouse gases have risen to unprecedented levels despite a growing number of policies to reduce climate change.” Moreover, if we are going to limit the increase in global mean temperature to two degrees Celsius, we must “lower global greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 70 percent compared with 2010 by mid-century, and to near-zero by the end of this century. Ambitious mitigation may even require removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.” This was sobering stuff.

But before we get discouraged, let me remind you of the positive progress that was made.

In June, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first-ever limits on the nation’s biggest source of the heat-trapping gases that are driving climate change, the carbon pollution pouring into the air from fossil fuel power plants. This is the most important step we can take to ensure healthy, productive lives for our children and their children. I am not going to steal Gina McCarthy’s thunder. But let me say. Gina, well done! And keep going!

In September, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in New York. My friend, the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon marched with them, as did Al Gore and many others. This public outpouring, mirrored in other cities around the world, was significant. It demonstrates that people are getting sick and tired of inaction and are prepared to stand behind the kind of leadership that the President, and Gina, and others are providing. I expect that some of you were there as well. Bravo!

In November, President Obama and the Chinese President Xi Jinping announced an historic agreement which set new targets for curbing the carbon emissions of the two nations.   With an agreement between the two largest economies, and the two largest polluters in the world tackling climate change, the biggest barrier to action has been removed. It is clearly time for everyone else to step up and join the fight.

Last month at the Conference of the Parties meeting in Lima, Peru the pathway for a major and successful agreement in Paris this December was laid out.

In the coming months Nations will make public their individual plans.

This is progress, real progress. We should not be naïve. The progress we have made so far cannot by any stretch of the imagination be confused with a long-term solution. But, we have begun to get serious.

Over the next three days, you have an opportunity to add to the momentum toward success in Paris.

Decarbonizing energy is at the core of addressing climate change. It is also at the core of a robust and sustainable Green Energy Economy that will unleash a truly astonishing level of economic activity, investment, and broad-based growth, generating the green jobs of the future.

As governor, I knew that we had to move New Mexico forward in several important areas, including clean energy. As a champion of addressing the threat of climate change, I took direct action to make New Mexico the “Clean Energy State” by requiring utilities to meet 20 percent of New Mexico’s electrical demand from renewable sources; and I established a Renewable Energy Transmission Authority to deliver New Mexico’s world-class renewable resources to market. Because on the flip side, we know that moving away from dirty fossil fuels and towards energy efficiency and renewable energy is a win-win-win: reducing the instances of asthma and other diseases caused by air pollution; protecting us from extreme weather and severe drought; all while adding potentially millions of good jobs in moving away from fossil fuels and towards a clean energy economy. In short, by embracing the fight against climate change, we can help make the United States a leader in clean energy jobs and economic opportunity, as well as environmental protection.

The Green Energy Economy is already here in part. The Solar Energy Industries Association recently reported that since 2010, the average price of a PV panel has dropped by 63%. Two weeks ago the Solar Foundation reported that in 2014 the U.S. solar industry employed 173,807 Americans and increase of more than 31,000 solar jobs last year. That is a 22 percent growth in solar industry employment since November 2013.  Solar employment grew nearly 20 times faster than the national average employment growth rate of 1.1 percent in the same period. That is the Green Energy Economy. Not too shabby.

Over the coming days, the scientists and engineers among you will contribute insights into the latest breakthroughs and the staggering possibilities that exist in the Green Energy Economy.

Others will bring ideas on how to capture and store carbon from fossil fuels.

Others among you will bring ideas on how move and use energy far more intelligently and efficiently.

Others will contribute insights into how policy and finance, business and civil society, and local and international efforts, can help.

All of you are, of course, correct. There is much to be done in every area.

Yet, today, I want to encourage you to think and go further.  I want you to find ways to merge your ideas with those around you coming at the problem from different perspectives.

Scientists and engineers to talk to the money people and the policy people and combine your ideas and your technologies, with finance and policy.

Those of you from the U.S. seek out partners from China and Europe and elsewhere – they are here.

Connect science and technology with business so that the fantastic ingenuity of our universities and our National labs move more quickly and effectively into the world where most of us live.

There will be opportunities over the next few days for each of you to form new partnerships across traditional boundaries with people with different areas of expertise and different priorities on how to decarbonize the world’s energy system.  Please go out of your way to form such relationships with others here. The more unlike you they are, the more likely such a relationship will accomplish something new and meaningful.

Those of you that know me know that much of my life’s work has come from creating unusual connections across political and ideological boundaries in places like North Korea, Iraq, Cuba, and Sudan. These connections seem crazy at times, but they are surprisingly effective.

I also urge you to patiently and persistently engage in the policy arena, whether it is contributing at the public sessions on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan or providing advice to your state legislators or to the good folks at federal agencies trying to figure out how best to allocate public dollars. Engage.

Well you are already here, so I know I am preaching to the choir.

Let me now turn to the opening speaker.

Gina McCarthy is, well, great. She is the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; an expert in air and health issues; a record of environmental accomplishments in Massachusetts and Connecticut; and above all a leader – visionary, smart, brave, disciplined, and tenacious – who is applying all of these traits to addressing climate change – and succeeding.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Gina McCarthy.