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September 06, 2013

International Support For Obama’s Climate Promises

Nordiske-flag1One might think that Nordic countries have the most to lose when it comes to the impending climate catastrophe. Partially located within in the North Arctic Circle and including the Danish territory of Greenland, glaciers are melting at an alarming rate and communities in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden will need to adapt and fight back.

Given this very real threat, it’s a relief - and a surprise to some - that the outlook for this region is relatively favorable in the the global context. Thanks in part to the strong economies and political institutions in these countries, they have a broad ability to adapt. But adaptation is not the only way these nations will deal with climate disruption.

These Nordic nations are the first ones to back President Obama’s plan to stop pouring money into dangerous coal projects overseas, except in rare circumstances.

The good news came this week, when President Obama visited Sweden and met with the leaders of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden to discuss a number of topics, including the environment, trade, and the Middle East.

“Climate change is one of the foremost challenges for our future economic growth and well-being,” the group of leaders said in a statement issued this week. “We underscore the importance of continuing to encourage innovative approaches to promoting energy efficiency and clean energy, including renewables, and of taking action on climate change, domestically and internationally.”

The countries said they will "join the United States in ending public financing for new coal-fired power plants overseas, except in rare circumstances" and "work together to secure the support of other countries and multilateral development banks to adopt similar policies."

Some international finance institutions have also begun turning away from coal because the outdated fossil fuel is a risky investment. This summer, the U.S. Export-Import Bank announced that it would not be funding the proposed Thai Binh II coal-fired power plant in Vietnam. Other international finance institutions have followed suit, including the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, dropping coal investments from their portfolios. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is facing pressure from the Sierra Club and others to be the next to give up coal investments.

These are crucial commitments, since one country or institution alone cannot fight climate disruption. To fully move beyond coal, governments and international finance institutions should be investing in renewables -- clean energy technologies that will do more to alleviate energy poverty while keeping communities healthy and fighting climate disruption. Together with our allies overseas, we stand a chance to reduce carbon emissions, keep communities safe from toxic chemicals, and preserve clean air and water for future generations.

--Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International Climate Program Representative

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