This week, 20 more countries officially signed onto the Paris climate agreement. It means that 60 countries representing 48 percent of global emissions have now joined – and that we’ll likely have enough nations on board to activate the pact by the end of this year.
That’s very good news for the environment.
But while the main goal of the Paris deal is to cut pollution, the agreement will have other important benefits as well. By taking action to rein in greenhouse gases, we can also make significant progress in an area that is arguably just as urgent: world peace.
Here are four steps we can take to build a more stable future for our growing world, while at the same time tackling climate change.
1. Deepen our collaboration with China
In a time of instability, U.S.-China relations may be, as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright recently noted, “the most important relationship of the 21st century.”
When the U.S. and China – responsible for nearly 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions – collaborate on climate change, it has a big impact that can spill over in other areas.
Earlier this month, when our two countries officially approved the Paris agreement, President Xi Jinping echoed the commitment to leadership when he noted that, “Our response to climate change bears on the future of our people and the well-being of mankind.”
Continued collaboration with China, the world’s No. 1 investor in renewable energy, should be a top priority for our national leadership, and a critical component of international peace. Think of it as an island of cooperation in a sea of complex issues.
2. Rethink food production
As a hotter world changes growing patterns, causes droughts and increases sea levels, people migrate. They’ll seek higher ground, wetter land for their crops, or tolerable temperatures. And almost always it will be someone else’s land.
Last year, in a chilling article, researchers concluded that the extreme drought in Syria between 2006 and 2009 was most likely due to climate change, and forced many farmers to abandon their fields and migrate to urban centers. That migration was a factor in the violent uprisings that began the Syrian civil war in 2011.
Researchers have also pointed to drought and shrinking aquifers as the cause for a rise in clashes in rural Iraq.
Establishing innovative policies and practices now can mitigate these impacts to vulnerable regions in the long term. I’m particularly encouraged by the precision agriculture movement, which promises to feed more people in compromised environments with less fertilizers, greenhouse gas emissions and pollution.
3. Boost investments in clean, secure energy
In vulnerable slum communities around the world – Egypt, Kenya, India and South Africa – solar energy is overcoming energy poverty. To this day, 1.1 billion people have no access to electricity, while 2.9 billion cook with firewood and other polluting, inefficient fuels.
It’s no coincidence that access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all is the 7th Sustainable Development Goal.
Energy is also critical for an ever-hotter world. Parts of the planet are at risk of becoming uninhabitable for people with no way to cool down.
This summer, Mitribah, Kuwait, and Basra, Iraq, both reached 129 degrees Fahrenheit (54 degrees Celsius), in what may have been the hottest locations ever recorded on Earth outside of Death Valley, California.
We must accelerate our efforts to bring sustainable energy to the world’s population if we want to create prosperity and peace.
4. Turn vulnerability into resilience
This year, we’ve seen major flooding in Louisiana, China, Pakistan and Malawi and sea level rise is already swallowing islands, according to a recent study. By building resilient cities and shores, we can help mitigate the devastation coastal communities will face.
Many organizations, including my own, are working on natural and industrial infrastructure projects that will make vulnerable communities resilient. At the beginning of this month, President Obama announced $40 million in programs to help island nations adapt.
Dealing with climate change is not the panacea, but it will help us build a more stable, peaceful world. With a global climate accord, we’ll finally be on the right track.