Image: Metronome’s clock in Manhattan shows the artists’ interpretation of the amount of time left before the effects of climate change are irreversible. Source: The New York Times.
- Speed up the Transition to Clean Energy
- Decrease Fossil Fuel Production
- Just Transition of the Workforce
- Funding Mitigation Efforts
After years of inaction, the United States has begun to seriously address the climate crisis since the election of a new President last year. However, the country’s current plans are not enough to achieve a 50% emissions reduction from 1990 levels by 2030. This post discusses a series of policies the United States can pursue to get on course for achieving the 2030 goal.
Speeding Up the Transition to Clean Energy
Clean production of electricity is a crucial part of any country’s emissions-reduction plan. The Biden Administration has committed to achieving a clean energy grid by 2035. However, that timeline would fail to meet the 2030 goal of the Paris Agreement. While the federal government continues to bide its time, the global temperature continues to rise.
While, politically, it is challenging for governments to develop and implement ambitious policies under tight timelines, years of inaction have made the window for effective climate action very short. Accelerated development of a clean energy grid requires speeding up the infrastructure work the Biden Administration has announced in its “Build Back Better” plan, which involves mobilizing thousands of Americans to improve public infrastructure, thereby creating thousands of jobs at sites around the country. The infrastructure bill to fund these projects was passed in November.
To adequately reduce emissions, the government needs to prioritize the building of clean power infrastructure. Other public infrastructure projects included in the Build Back Better plan are an important part of a just transition of the workforce but will not contribute directly to the goals of the Paris Agreement. Getting to 50% by 2030 requires accelerating those infrastructure projects that will provide a clean energy grid.
Decrease Fossil Fuel Production
At COP26, President Biden stressed the need for countries to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Several weeks later, in response to soaring gas prices in the United States, the same government encouraged companies to ramp up production of fossil fuels.
According to a 2021 report by the International Energy Agency, a global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius can only be achieved if countries immediately cease new fossil fuel developments and begin phasing out fossil fuels altogether.
While a transition away from fossil fuels is alluded to throughout Biden’s Build Back Better plan, the government’s latest actions run against that promise. If the United States is to achieve a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030, the government needs to adopt policies that reduce the production of fossil fuels, rather than promoting it.
Just Transition of the Workforce
Without the American public onboard, the government cannot implement ambitious green policies. For this reason, a plan for a just transition of the workforce is necessary for accelerating climate action. The government will not adopt emissions-reduction strategies that leave Americans without jobs.
The President’s American Jobs Plan points again to improvements in infrastructure as a key source of new jobs. Getting those infrastructure projects shovel-ready as soon as possible, all while prioritizing those projects focused on the clean energy grid, is crucial to achieving the 2030 goal.
In addition, the proposed infrastructure projects are only temporary. For the country’s new path forward to be sustainable in the long term, the government needs to point to new, long-lasting industries that will facilitate a just transition of the workforce.
Funding the Mitigation Efforts
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require significant upfront costs. The UN has repeatedly emphasized to countries that tackling climate change will be an expensive but worthwhile investment (see, for example: https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/why-finance-climate-action).
From accelerating the development of a clean energy grid, to facilitating the phasing out of fossil fuels, and to transitioning America’s workforce, upfront government spending is a necessity. Some activists suggest that, as demonstrated by recent history, countries can engage in significant deficit spending without harmful economic consequences (see the U.S. Climate Action Network’s Vision for Equitable Climate Action: https://equitableclimateaction.org/financing/). Activists and politicians have famously pointed out that for many other significant issues facing the United States, the government does not ask “How will we pay for it?”
While views may differ on the long-term economic consequences of significant upfront spending, one thing is certain: to achieve the 2030 goal of the Paris Agreement, politicians in the United States must be willing to spend significant public funds on ambitious policies. There is no free path to reducing emissions, but the investment will be worthwhile.
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Director Ron Israel