We all know this, because America is a nation of strivers — innovative, creative people who understand that ambition and drive can make the difference between success and failure. It's true in business. It's true in life. And it's true in environmental protection.
Today the World Resources Institute (WRI) released a report that shows how crucial national ambition is when it comes to charting an effective pathway for climate action.
The report — Can the U.S. Get There From Here? — is a searching examination of the potential for reducing carbon pollution under existing federal laws and with state leadership.
It finds that, with ambitious action by the federal government and the states to curb carbon pollution, the United States can cut its emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
That hopeful news comes not a moment too soon, because the bad news about climate change is all around us.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently announced that 2012 was the tenth warmest year on record for the planet, continuing the trend of rising global temperatures in which each decade has been hotter than the one before.
In the continental United States, 2012 was the warmest year on record, with the second most extreme weather — record-breaking high temperatures, the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, widespread drought, rising corn prices, and grim wildfires. Eleven weather disasters in 2012 carried a greater than $1 billion price tag, with the recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy expected to top $60 billion. And while our cities are flooding, crops are dying, and forests are burning, Congress is fiddling.
So let's look more closely at WRI’s hopeful news about what we can achieve under existing laws.
The new report finds that progress in four key areas will be essential:
- Implementing rigorous federal carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants, transitioning the power sector towards a cleaner, more modern, and more resilient electricity generation system
- Eliminating use and emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, extremely potent heat-trapping gases
- Developing comprehensive federal emission standards to stop the methane leaks in oil and gas extraction and transport processes
- Improving the energy efficiency of our economy
Leadership by states to cut emissions and invest in clean energy and efficiency will be needed to compliment and amplify action at the federal level.
The analysis also demonstrates that no matter how rigorous our nation is in carrying out existing laws to cut carbon pollution, we will need new legislation to achieve the deeper emission reductions climate science demands by mid-century.
In the meantime, there is much that we can do. Now. And with these actions, we can start to transform our aging energy infrastructure and forge a prosperous clean energy, low-carbon future.
This is my favorite sentence of the report:
[T]he single most important factor influencing emissions reductions is political and policy ambition.
Ambition matters. So let’s be ambitious here, where it matters so very much to our future, our children’s futures, and our planet’s future.