After seven years of political wrangling, President Obama has finally rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a proposed infrastructure project that would have carried 800,000 barrels of oil a day from the Canadian oil sands to the Gulf Coast.
The announcement comes weeks before a historic climate conference in Paris, at which world leaders are meeting to (hopefully) strike a resolution that would substantially limit global carbon emissions in the years to come. Such a resolution could steer humanity on a path toward a low-carbon future and away from catastrophic climate change.
The rejection of the Keystone pipeline is largely symbolic—according to The New York Times, many State Department reviews concluded that the pipeline’s construction would ultimately have little impact on the extraction and burning of fossil fuels from the Canadian oil sands, since they were already entering the market by other means. But it sends an important signal to the world: That the United States may finally be ready to assume a larger role when it comes to tackling climate change, coming a long way since failing to ratify the first international climate treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
Keystone isn’t the only symbolic action Obama has taken in recent months. In August, the White House announced a major new piece of environmental legislation, a Clean Power Plan which calls on states to cut their power plant carbon emissions by a third by 2030. Later that month, Obama became the first standing president to visit the Arctic, in a historic trip that was intended to shine a spotlight on climate change.
In advance of the Paris climate conference this December, the US has pledged to reduce its net carbon emissions by 26 to 28% by 2025. Like most of the other pledges that have been rolling in these past few months, the US resolution isn’t aggressive enough to keep the world within the internationally agreed-upon 2ºC global warming limit. But the rejection of the Keystone pipeline could be a sign that Obama is willing to ante up even more. Let’s hope so, because Paris may be our last, best shot to get our act together.
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Top image: Nati Harnik / AP