Top Five Environmental Initiatives of 2015

This has been a landmark year for U.S. environmental and climate change diplomacy.  Our five 2015 highlights are just a few examples of this year’s exciting progress on a range of critical issues.

COP21 - U.S. Leadership Key to Historic Climate Agreement

President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, on Monday, November 30, 2015 [AP Photo].

Delegates from almost 200 nations made an ambitious new agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change aimed at keeping the global temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius.  The agreement reached in Paris at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) represented a critical juncture in addressing climate change, whose effects are becoming ever more apparent around the world.

The United States played an important leadership role in the lead-up to COP21 and during the event.  Since President Obama took office, the United States has reduced its carbon emissions to their lowest levels in nearly two decades while growing its economy, tripling wind energy production, and increasing solar power by twenty times.  The President’s Clean Power Plan will cut emissions from the U.S. power sector 32 percent by 2030 and will save more than $50 billion in climate and health-related costs in the process. 

Our Ocean

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at the opening session of the 2014 "Our Ocean" conference at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on June 16, 2014.

The second Our Ocean conference in Valparaiso, Chile in October produced pledges and initiatives valued at $2.1 billion to protect marine habitats, promote sustainable fisheries, reduce marine pollution, and address ocean acidification.  Since Secretary Kerry launched the first Our Ocean conference in 2014, these events have created or expanded marine protected areas covering 5.9 million square kilometers, or almost double the size of India.  The Our Ocean conference returns to Washington, D.C. in 2016, and the European Union plans to host in 2017.

Montreal Protocol and the Dubai Pathway

A boy walks past a brick factory on the outskirts of city in India, a country which is now the world's third-largest greenhouse gas emitter. [AP Photo]

Parties to the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 agreement to protect the ozone layer that’s been hailed as one of the most successful treaties in history, took a major step forward in November toward regulating super greenhouse gasses known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

Meeting in Dubai, the parties agreed to have talks next year on an amendment to the Protocol that would address HFCs, replacements to ozone-depleting substances that are often used in refrigeration, air conditioning, and insulation.  The so-called Dubai Pathway follows years of effort by the United States, Canada, Mexico, and others to phase down production and consumption of HFCs.  Adopting a worldwide phasedown of HFCs would avoid global warming of 0.5 degree Celsius, a big contribution to our climate mitigation efforts.

Banning Ivory to Protect Elephants

Elephants walk across the Taita Hills Game in Kenya as the sun sets after a day long's walk. February 5, 2011 [AP Photo]

Wildlife trafficking is an international blight destabilizing rural communities, damaging ecosystems, and risking the extinction of animal species.  For example, demand for ivory has decimated elephant populations in recent years.  In September, Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Obama agreed to enact near-complete bans on ivory import and export, and to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of the product.  This agreement, a culmination of more than two years of earnest deliberations, is particularly important because legal trade can mask illicit trade, and China and the United States are among the world’s largest markets for wildlife products.

Arctic Council Leadership

NASA Scientists gather samples atop Arctic sea ice and melt ponds in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska [NASA/Kathryn Hansen]

Many Americans don’t realize that the United States is an Arctic nation, with many important interests and responsibilities in the world’s northern-most expanse.  In April, the United States assumed the two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental body that promotes sustainable development and environmental protection in the region.

The U.S. chairmanship is focused on improving economic and living conditions for people living in the Arctic; ensuring ocean safety, security and stewardship; and addressing the impacts of climate change. To address the unique challenges faced by the Arctic, Secretary Kerry led a conference in August on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER). President Obama addressed the conference and became the first sitting president to visit the U.S. Arctic.

2016 promises to be another productive year for U.S. environmental diplomacy. Stay tuned for updates!

About the Author: Judith Garber is the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES).

For more information:

  • Follow the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Read other DipNote blog entries from the Assistant Secretary. 



mohamad s.
January 2, 2016
Mr kerry hi As you focus your effort on having Green energy point of an environment with out pollution and you have considered much cost for it,Maybe,after impart from energy of sun-wind-water-waves and etc. My idea can gather high percentage with little cost and ability of performing in all situations too, so I need help for scientific and laboratory to perform a huge act for society and development, I will be happy too thanks mohamad sarami
The slogan "FOR THE PLANET" is projected on the Eiffel Tower as part of the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, France.
Posted by Judith Garber
December 30, 2015


Latest Stories

January 19, 2017

What We Got Right

With a new administration taking office this week, it is natural to assess the inheritance it will receive from the… more