Last month the Department of Energy announced that, for the first time, scientists produced net energy gain from nuclear fusion. This development follows decades of worldwide fusion research, efforts that have only become more relevant given the potential of fusion’s virtually-inexhaustible, emissions-free energy to power the world and fight climate change. But this breakthrough is not exclusively a scientific one: it demonstrates how the U.S. can continue to show global climate leadership by exporting innovative technologies to the rest of the world.
Although the U.S. remains one of the world’s top emitters, America’s emissions reductions in recent years dwarf those of similarly influential powers. The U.S. is the largest country in the world that has decoupled economic flourishing and greenhouse gas emissions, meaning GDP is growing while emissions are shrinking.
The economy or the climate? Why not both?
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From 2005 to 2020, the U.S. slashed its emissions by 20%, while GDP grew by about 63%. In contrast, global net carbon emissions rose by 51% between 1990 and 2015. This worrying trend was reflected by many major global powers such as Russia, whose cumulative carbon emissions rose by about 27% from 2005 to 2020, and China, whose annual carbon emissions rose by a shocking 86% in the same time frame. In fact, China’s emissions currently exceed those of the entire developed world combined.
At a time when the need to reduce emissions is coinciding with the need to provide reliable and affordable energy to consumers, American climate leadership is all the more necessary. In the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Western European nations, which relied on Russia for 40% of their natural gas needs in 2021, have been left scrambling for alternatives, leading to greater use of coal, a power source that accounts for about 40% of all emissions from fossil fuel combustion. And while the world looks to increase its share of renewable power, 45% of solar panels’ key component, polysilicon, is produced in Xinjiang, China, where Chinese authorities are allegedly committing grave human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims.
American innovators are already making their mark on global energy and climate leadership. Portland-based NuScale is blazing the world’s path forward on next-generation energy, delivering affordable nuclear power to four continents. Similarly, Florida-based NextEra Energy, the world’s largest utility company, is generating more wind and solar energy than any other company in the world, while creating thousands of high-paying jobs. And, of course, recent progress with fusion technology opens the door for a future of American-supplied, affordable, perpetual clean energy. The power of the private sector and American innovation is, and will continue to be, indomitable as we move toward an affordable, reliable, and clean energy future.
The reality is, affordable energy and climate progress should not be competing forces. Sustainable climate leadership and progress will not work if it is too expensive for consumers. The U.S. must fully take on leadership to marry advancement against climate change and further democratic interests worldwide. America’s exceptional work reducing emissions while growing GDP and last month’s breakthrough on fusion demonstrate that American innovators will continue to lead the world on meaningful climate progress.
Nadia Suben is the leader of the American Conservation Coalition’s New York City branch, as well as the founder of the organization’s Conservatives for Clean Cities initiative.