Climate 411

2019: A Major Turning Point for Climate

After many years of inaction, 2019 marked a significant turning point in the global fight for climate action. Today’s youth captured our global attention and brought a renewed sense of urgency to the climate crisis, while businesses, local governments, and elected officials took major steps forward and set the tone for meaningful action in the future.

Businesses Take a Strong Stand Against Climate Change

Across the country, more than 10 major utility companies set goals to steeply reduce their carbon emissions—including Duke Energy, Xcel Energy, and DTE Energy who announced targets to achieve net-zero climate pollution by 2050. Joining these major utilities in a push for net-zero are other global business leaders like Danone, Mars, Unilever, and Nestle.

In the transportation sector, electric vehicles are increasing their market share and Ford Motor Company unveiled its plan to produce an electric battery powered SUV—called the Mustang Mach-E.

As the jobs in the coal industry shrunk again,  jobs in wind, solar, and  related clean energy industries grew strongly  in 2019. In fact, a recent study showed that the global race for clean job creation is off and running.

Congress Prioritizes Climate

After years of climate inaction on Capitol Hill, 2019 delivered fresh momentum for change.

Representative Donald McEachin (D-VA) sponsored the 100% Clean Economy Act, a bill that puts the U.S. on a path to achieving net-zero climate pollution by 2050. More than 160 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are co-sponsoring the legislation, marking the first time in a decade where nearly the entire House democratic caucus rallied behind an ambitious climate pollution target.

Congressional committees in both chambers of the Capitol held collectively more than 50 climate related hearings—led by the landmark Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in the House of Representatives. In the House, 2019 marked the year when climate hearings were back on the docket after a six year drought.

In the Senate, there was a much needed sign of bipartisanship. This fall Senators Mike Braun (R-IN) and Chris Coons (D-DE) launched the first-ever bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus, which at the close of 2019 has 10 Senators.

Local and State Governments Lead the Charge to Action

While climate action received renewed attention in the nation’s Capital, the real action in 2019 was in city halls and statehouses across the country.

In response to the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, a coalition of states and local governments representing nearly 70% of U.S. GDP continued to sign on to “America’s Pledge” on climate.

At the city level, over 200 mayors from across the United States pledged their support to transition their municipalities to 100% clean

After Colorado and Washington signed major climate bills into law, Nevada, Oregon, and other states across the country also took major steps towards climate action in 2019.

Today, according to a November 2019 report, one-third of Americans (about 111 million and 34% of the population) lives in a community or state that has committed to or has already achieved 100% clean electricity.

A Renewed Priority for Change

Lawmakers’ renewed focus on climate action closely correlates with another major 2019 climate milestone: climate change (and action to address the problem) is now a top-tier issue for Americans.

Polling across the country shows that Americans across the political spectrum are rapidly acknowledging climate change is a crisis. In September, CNN became the first major news outlet to hold a Presidential forum specific to the issue.

Millions of people took to the streets this fall to participate in the world’s largest global climate change demonstration in history, and many youth have exclaimed that these protests are just the start.

Just how much has this grassroots action moved the needle? The Oxford Dictionary named “climate emergency” as the 2019 word of the year and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was named Time Magazine Person of the Year.

The Stage is Set for Climate Action

But with more extreme weather events, health risks, and economic hardships caused by climate change on the horizon, it is critically important that we hold public and private sector leaders accountable for more progress and measurable action in 2020.

In a matter of weeks the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis is poised to release policy priorities recommendations and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has committed to bringing a major, bipartisan climate bill to the floor in 2020.

There’s no doubt 2019 marked a critical turning point in the climate change fight, but the stakes are raised as we head into 2020. For our children’s future, we must capitalize on this historic momentum for climate action, and push for binding commitments for a 100% clean economy by 2050.

Posted in News / Read 1 Response

Public records confirm EPA’s “censored science” proposal was an end-run around Congress

Earth as seen from a NOAA weather satellite. Photo: NASA

The Trump administration is reportedly expanding its dangerous plan — originally proposed by former Administrator Scott Pruitt — to limit the scientific evidence that the agency can consider when establishing public health protections.

According to a story in the New York Times today, the new proposal will be even more damaging than Pruitt’s version – which was flatly illegal and would have left Americans more exposed to dangerous contaminants in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the products we use.

The original proposal was based on failed congressional legislation whose sponsor “pitch[ed]” the idea to former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. But newly released public documents show that the origins of the “censored science” proposal are more cynical than we knew.

EDF sued to obtain the public records after EPA violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by not releasing them, with Earthjustice representing us in the litigation.

The new public records reveal just how explicitly Trump’s EPA is attempting to defy Congress by implementing its “censored science” policy through administrative rulemaking. It turns out that – from the beginning – EPA’s overt goal was to implement the same damaging ideas that the Senate refused to pass. Read More »

Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Policy, Pruitt, Science, Setting the Facts Straight / Comments are closed

100% Clean: How Do We Actually Get There?

For the U.S. to do its part to help avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must achieve a 100% clean economy by 2050 at the latest – removing at least as much climate pollution from the atmosphere as we put into it each year. (Read this for more on what we mean by “100% clean” or why this should be the goal.)  But what does a 100% clean economy actually look like and how do we get there?

Several studies have examined how the U.S. can cut emissions 80% from 2005 levels by 2050, such as the Obama Administration’s Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization. More recently, Evolved Energy’s 350 ppm Pathways for the United States became the first major report to identify pathways for the U.S. to achieve even deeper reductions: net-zero carbon dioxide (CO­2) emissions by 2050.

A 100% clean economy by 2050 is ambitious but necessary. To achieve it, we’ll need policies that drive down  climate pollution and substantial acceleration of clean energy innovation. Deep decarbonization studies suggest that with comprehensive climate policy and technology progress as a foundation, a 100% clean economy will most likely rely on:

  • Rapidly transitioning to a clean electricity system. We already have a good idea of how to clean up the electricity sector. Several zero-carbon sources (wind, solar, hydro, nuclear) have been widely deployed and are already among the most cost-effective options for new generation. As a result, the electricity sector is likely to transition quicker and more cost effectively than any other part of the economy.
  • Electrifying as much as possible. Electrifying major sectors like transportation and buildings cuts fossil fuel use and reduces emissions even with today’s electricity mix. It will lead to even greater reductions as electricity gets cleaner.
  • Deploying low carbon fuels where electrification isn’t practical. Cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels, including hydrogen, synthetic gas, and biofuels can fill in where electrification is tricky, such as for high temperature heat needed for manufacturing processes and in aviation.
  • Advancing energy efficiency. Energy efficiency lowers the amount of energy required—and therefore the emissions produced. Today, there are cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities in every sector of the economy, from vehicles to appliances to industrial equipment. As technology improves, even more opportunities to save energy while saving money will become available.
  • Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Protecting and increasing natural carbon “sinks” like forests or by deploying technologies that suck CO2 directly out of the air can help lower concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, helping us reach 100% clean as quickly as possible. Also, because it will be very challenging to completely eliminate emissions from all parts of the economy, especially industry and transportation, carbon dioxide removal (CDR) can help ensure we’re taking as much carbon out of the atmosphere as we’re putting into it. There is disagreement over how big the potential carbon sink is from natural sources (the Evolved study, for instance, assumes the potential for natural CDR is large relative to other estimates). To the extent less natural CDR is available, we will need more technological CDR or more carbon mitigation.
  • Reducing non-CO2 CO2 is the dominant climate pollutant responsible for climate change, but there are other major greenhouse gases that trap more heat on a per ton basis, such as methane, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These gases are emitted not only through energy consumption but as byproducts of a wide variety of activities such as agriculture, oil and gas industries, landfills, and refrigeration and air conditioning. There are various strategies available to reduce these greenhouse gas emissions, but some sources are easier to reduce than others. For example, cutting edge techniques to limit methane emissions from livestock can only reduce emissions by 30%, even as livestock-related emissions are likely to grow as the population grows. More RD&D, incentives, regulations and technical assistance across the economy will be needed to reduce these emissions and deploy available technologies.

This suite of strategies, some of which are already cost-competitive with more polluting alternatives, could take off with a pollution limit in place. The chart below, based on Evolved Energy’s data, shows how these strategies might intersect to help the U.S. reach a 100% clean economy (although it’s important to note that the Evolved analysis only considered energy-related CO­2 emissions).

(Click to Enlarge) *With electrification, there will be less direct use of fossil fuel, but the fuels that remain will tend to be more energy and carbon intensive **Includes negative emissions from biomass, increased sequestration in natural sinks, and negative emissions technologies +Some of the savings attributed to EE could also be attributed to electrification, as many electric technologies use less energy to provide the same service compared to fossil fuel burning alternatives

The contributions of each of the strategies in the figure should be considered rough orders of magnitude rather than precise estimates. There are many different ways to project the potential emissions reductions from each strategy, and each strategy also interacts and influences the others. For example, the extent to which expanded electrification leads to emissions reductions depends heavily on how clean the electricity sector becomes. The important thing to note is that we will have to make dramatic progress in each of these areas in order to achieve a 100% clean economy.

We can also see that even as overall emissions decline, there are forces pushing some sources of emissions up: Historically, as economic growth increased, so did energy consumption and emissions. While there’s recent evidence this relationship may be growing weaker, in general, higher GDP is associated with more energy demand. And while we expect to electrify a lot of the economy, not all equipment can be easily electrified, especially those that require the most energy, like airplanes and some industrial processes that require extremely high temperatures. As a result, the remaining fuels that are not replaced with electricity are more carbon intensive than the average of all of the fuels used today. So while there’s less direct use of fossil fuels, what’s left may be more carbon intensive.

At the big picture level, a 100% clean economy will be vastly more efficient, more reliant on clean electricity, and will deploy technologies and practices that capture and store at least as many emissions as we produce. Let’s go deeper and explore how a 100% clean economy might transform specific sectors:

  • In commercial and residential buildings, much of the energy needed for space and water heating and cooking will come from electricity. This will require next-generation appliance standards, more ambitious building codes, and incentives to adopt efficient electric technologies like electric heat pumps. Maximizing energy efficiency in new buildings will be essential: many of the buildings built today will still be standing in 2050.
  • Increased electrification will also be necessary in the industrial sector, although many industrial processes will be hard to electrify. Fuel switching to alternative low- or no-carbon sources like hydrogen or sustainable biofuels, as well as energy and material efficiency – making less resource-intensive products – can also significantly reduce industrial sector emissions. Finally, many industrial processes are good candidates for carbon capture and storage technologies that capture carbon emissions to be stored underground or put to productive use.
  • Electrification and efficiency will drive a lot of the transportation sector emission reductions. The Evolved analysis assumes that electric vehicles and other zero carbon alternatives like fuel cells make up nearly 100% of new vehicle sales by the end of the 2030s, up from only a few percent today. This will require expanded incentives for electric vehicles coupled with stronger climate pollution standards for cars and trucks (like the ones the Trump Administration is trying to roll back).

Deep decarbonization studies also often rely on biofuels as a large source of transportation emissions reductions, although measuring the full emissions footprint of biofuels is challenging and controversial.  What we do know is that, for applications such as jet fuel, electrification is unlikely, and therefore deployment of verifiably sustainable biofuels could play an important role in getting to 100% clean.

Taken together, transitioning to a 100% clean economy by midcentury will require an unprecedented transformation of our economy. Understanding the core elements of a 100% clean economy can help us design policies to accelerate the needed transition to a more efficient economy that relies more heavily on clean electricity and low carbon fuels, and which reduces as much climate pollution as it produces.

The good news is there are signs of progress. Several pieces of federal climate legislation have been introduced by members of both parties that would begin to put us on the right path. While a 100% clean economy ultimately requires that Congress enact legislation to drive down climate pollution, innovation is also an important piece of the climate puzzle, and it currently enjoys bipartisan support in Congress. And states across the country are already taking action.

100% clean is 100% achievable: now we need to build the political will to make it a reality.

 

Posted in News / Comments are closed

Four takeaways on climate change and sea level rise in the latest IPCC report

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has published yet another alarming report about the dangers we face from the climate crisis.

The Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate synthesizes the latest science on how the oceans and frozen parts of the world have changed, and will continue to change, because of global warming.

More than 100 scientists from 36 countries summarized findings from almost 7,000 peer reviewed research studies. The authors addressed over 30,000 comments from expert reviewers and governments in 80 countries.

A major focus of the report is sea level rise, a climate change impact that is especially serious to those who live in coastal regions – which is more than a quarter of the world’s population. Recent advances in science, such as higher quality data, improved physical understanding, and agreements across modeling studies have improved understanding of the threat of sea level rise.

Here are four of the report’s most important takeaways on sea level rise:

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Also posted in Arctic & Antarctic, Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Oceans, Policy, Science / Read 3 Responses

Trump’s ACE Rule May Especially Harm Vulnerable Communities

(This post was co-authored by EDF intern Laura Supple)

The Trump administration’s latest attack on clean air protections may cause the greatest harm to the most vulnerable communities – according to EPA’s own projections.

In June, the Trump administration repealed the Clean Power Plan – America’s first and only nationwide limit on carbon pollution from existing power plants – and replaced it with a pollution-enabling rule that, by EPA’s own numbers, would increase climate pollution in many states compared to no policy at all.

Experts have warned that under the Trump replacement, called the ACE rule, many parts of the country would also see increases in health-harming sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides pollution that lead to soot and smog. While the Administration has tried to downplay the public health consequences of the new rule, EPA’s projections show that vulnerable communities around the nation will likely suffer the most from these dangerous pollution increases.

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Also posted in Cities and states, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Policy / Comments are closed

By the numbers: Colorado Zero Emission Vehicle Program will cut climate pollution and save Coloradans money

(This post was written by EDF  Attorney Laura Shields) 

The numbers are in for Colorado’s proposed Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program – it will cut climate pollution and save Coloradans millions of dollars.

This week, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission is formally considering adoption of the ZEV program for model year 2023 through 2025 vehicles. (Colorado already adopted state Low Emission Vehicle standards last year).

What’s at stake for Coloradans?

This important clean air program means that, while no Coloradan has any obligation to buy or choose a zero-polluting vehicle, ALL Coloradans will have more models of zero-emitting vehicles to choose from if they want a cleaner car.

These clean vehicles will save Coloradans hard-earned money at the gas pump and will reduce dangerous climate pollution. They will also help reduce smog-forming pollution in all communities across Colorado, clean up Denver’s brown cloud, and lift the veil of haze pollution in our world-class national parks and wilderness areas.

In short, Colorado’s proposed ZEV program will mean healthier air, fuel cost savings, more vehicle choice and a safer climate for all Coloradans.

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Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Cities and states, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Partners for Change, Policy / Read 2 Responses