From rising sea levels and the erosion of coastal shorelines to severe flooding, the signs of climate change surround us. As a global society, we are at a critical juncture. We must ask ourselves, what kind of world do we want for our children, and our children’s children?
But this is not just about the future. There are immediate benefits to keeping pollutants out of our environment: cleaner air, healthier citizens, lower energy costs, and new growth industries.
These are the stakes at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris, where representatives from almost 200 nations have gathered this week to negotiate a comprehensive climate agreement. Now more than ever, people everywhere understand that we must do something about the rise in global temperatures and the havoc it is wreaking on the environment, on economies, and on peace and stability around the world. More than 160 countries, including Sierra Leone and the United States, have announced climate targets ahead of the conference.
The United States is taking bold action on climate change at home as we work with partner nations to do the same. Since President Obama took office, the U.S. has reduced carbon emissions, tripled wind energy production, and increased solar power twenty fold. Our cars use less petrol, our energy use is more efficient, and an historic amount of land and water has been protected for future generations. At the same time, the U.S. economy has expanded, proving that economies can grow even as they limit their carbon output.
Sierra Leone will benefit from a comprehensive agreement in Paris. The 2015 Climate Change Vulnerability Index named Sierra Leone the second-most vulnerable country to climate change in the entire world. The over-exploitation of so much of the country’s forest cover has deprived people of food and shelter, and it has also undermined defenses against the effects of climate change and disease. With an agreement in Paris, Sierra Leone will be better protected from outbreaks of disease, extreme weather events, and food insecurity. Greater use of renewable energy will also help Sierra Leone expand access to reliable power while protecting the environment.
Climate change is not just an issue for governments, though. Each of us plays a critical role in turning climate policy into action, day after day. Do we work with our neighbors to keep our communities clean? Do we dispose of trash in appropriate places? Do we teach our children to care for the environment? Do we continue to cut down trees, even in protected areas? Each day, the small decisions we make as individuals have a direct impact on the world around us.
Whether we are world leaders in Paris or ordinary citizens, now is the time to act. The future of our planet as a safe, healthy, and comfortable place to live for our children and future generations depends on it.