In just six weeks, we’ve seen three major climate proposals indicating that the factions of the Democratic Party are aligning on climate policy after a decade of disarray and disagreement. This policy platform on climate shows how much interest groups and politicians agree on and lays critical groundwork for enacting a transformative green recovery and a just transition to a clean energy future. It illuminates a path to finally passing big, bold climate policy solutions at the national level.
If you aren’t someone who spends time in the weeds of climate change news, you may have no idea what I’m talking about. With the pandemic raging, the economy destabilizing, and a rational racial justice/policing crisis, unification of the left on climate policy hardly made headlines. Yet if you are hoping that after the next election we will enact a green recovery and a just transition to a clean energy future, take a moment to celebrate, because such action just got a lot more likely.
Here’s a quick summary: On June 30th, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis issued its report . This included a detailed Climate Crisis Action Plan put together by House Democrats. On July 8, the Biden-Sanders unity task force on climate (chaired by John Kerry and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) issued its policy recommendations. Finally, on July 14, Joe Biden released his Build Back Better proposal on climate, a $2 trillion proposal for clean energy investments, economic stimulus, and a transition to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Here’s how journalist David Roberts summarized this in Vox: “For the first time in memory, there’s a broad alignment forming around a climate policy platform that is both ambitious enough to address the problem and politically potent enough to unite all the left’s various interest groups.”
These plans have a lot in common: they all set standards for net-zero emissions by 2050 (or sooner), they all focus on climate justice, and they all include large-scale public investment.
- Setting standards: Two-thirds of US emissions come from sectors where clean alternatives are already available–cars, electricity, and buildings. Details vary, but the plans agree on a common core of strong performance standards and incentives for these big three emitters to make rapid progress on emissions in the next ten years. Doing so can get us a long way toward meeting the 2030 emissions reduction goals the IPCC says are critical to prevent the worst, most catastrophic climate change impacts.
- Climate justice: Unions, fossil fuel workers, and frontline communities helped develop these plans. They include polices such as coal worker transition programs, equity mapping to identify vulnerable communities and send public investment there first, and incentives that favor union workers for clean energy jobs.
- Large public investment: Support for green industries, manufacturing, research, and job creation is in these proposals, as are a number of ideas for combining recovery from the COVID-10 economic crisis with transformative climate solutions.
Pre-pandemic, when I used to give in-person talks about climate solutions, I sometimes ended with this quote attributed to Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it is done.” This summer, the left’s new unity on climate policy makes transformative climate progress seep a little less impossible.
If you are interested in more details about these plans, see links below.
Carlie Clarcq, “Biden’s clean energy plan proposes economic recovery through green investments,” Climate Change, July 23, 2020.
David Roberts, “At last, a climate policy platform that can unite the left,” Vox, July 9, 2020.
I bet you could use some good news today. I’ve been following three climate progress stories this month that illustrate movement toward a safer climate and a better world. Below are quick summaries of each of them with links you can use to learn more. I hope these stories encourage and inspire you!
One: The fossil fuel sector is increasingly losing its social license to operate. This month, the Vatican urged the 1.2 billion Catholics on earth to divest from fossil fuel investments. This is the latest in a string of increasingly big wins for the fossil fuel divestment movement. Since January, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and others have pledged to stop investing in the dirtiest fossil fuels. Many faith groups, universities and pension funds have declared that it is unethical (and unwise) to invest in the destruction of the earth’s climate. If the financial sector stops financing fossil fuel extraction refining and transport, the chances of preventing a runaway climate catastrophe increase.
Two: More businesses with deep pockets and vast resources are announcing plans and beginning to act to decarbonize their energy systems and contribute to climate solutions. This month Lyft committed to transitioning to 100% EVs (electric vehicles) by 2030. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S., as well as a huge contributor to local air pollution. Lyft’s commitment will help reduce these impacts, and it will also increase trust in EVs, which is a critical step for widespread adoption. Ford Motors announced plans for carbon neutrality by 2050, which will require a huge commitment to EVs and other climate-friendly changes. Other companies that have recently upped their commitments to climate action include Unilever, (one of the biggest consumer goods companies in the world), Amazon, Microsoft, and Ikea.
Three: Renewable energy is taking over the U.S. electricity grid, even without help from the federal government. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated this trend, and a grid that’s powered by clean energy is rapidly becoming both technically feasible and economically competitive. A new study shows that falling costs combined with breakthroughs in storage have made it feasible to get to 90% renewable electricity in the U.S. in just 15 years while lowering costs. This level of technological progress and economic viability for renewables was unimaginable ten or even five years ago, but today, we have the ability to quickly transition our electrical grid to renewables affordably.
Silvio Marcacci – Forbes, June 9, 2020
Renewable energy has been considered too expensive and too unreliable to power our grid, but new research has overturned that trope for good. Plummeting wind, solar, and storage prices have fallen so fast that the United States can reach 90% clean electricity by 2035 – without raising customer costs, and actually decreasing wholesale power costs 10%…
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Umair Irfan – Vox, 6/8/20
With clear roads, clear skies, oil prices plummeting, businesses needing bailouts, and political capital to spend, countries like South Korea, Italy, and France have decided that the pandemic response is an opportunity to rethink energy, infrastructure, industry, and government in ways to cut pollution and reduce emissions contributing to climate change…
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Ramez Naam – Blog, 5/14/20
Over the past decade, Ramez Naam has made forecasts about the future costs of clean energy technologies, including solar. In this post, he explains that Solar has plunged in price faster than anyone – including he – predicted…
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Matt McGrath – BBC News, 5/6/20
We’re living through the biggest carbon crash ever recorded. No war, no recession, no previous pandemic has had such a dramatic impact on emissions of CO2 over the past century as Covid-19 has in a few short months. But even though we will see a massive fall this year, the concentrations of CO2 that are in the atmosphere and warming our planet won’t stabilise until the world reaches net-zero…
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America’s renewable energy sources produced more electricity than coal every day for 40 days straight
Jason Murdock – Newsweek, 5/5/20
Renewable sources including solar, wind and hydropower generated more electricity than coal-based plants every single day in April, a new report says. Analysis based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), said the finding marks a major “milestone” in an energy transition that is now underway…
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John Abraham – The Guardian, 3/26/18
Wind, solar, and storage could meet 90–100% of America’s electricity needs according to a paper published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science. The authors analyzed 36 years of hourly weather data (1980–2015) in the US…
David Roberts – Vox, 5/29/19
Another sign that zero-carbon energy is going viral. The energy world got some big news in December: Xcel Energy, one of the biggest utilities in the US, committed to going completely carbon-free by 2050 (and 80 percent carbon-free by 2030)…
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Brad Plumer and Blacki Migliozzi – New York Times, 2/
The United States is reducing its greenhouse gas emissions far too slowly to help avert the worst effects of global warming. But what would happen if the country adopted seven of the most ambitious climate policies already in place around the world?
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