“The point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight
and hurtling toward us.”
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ speech addressed delegates at this week’s 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25), and cited recent scientific data showing that levels of heat-trapping gases have hit a record high. Countries have failed to halt the rise of greenhouse gas emissions with China and the United States, the two biggest polluters, further increasing their emissions last year. Unless emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are sharply cut, temperatures could rise to twice the threshold set in the 2015 Paris accord by the end of the century, he warned.
The effects of global warming are seeping into our daily lives. Scientists prefer to use “climate change” when describing the complex shifts now affecting our planet’s weather and climate systems. Climate change encompasses not only rising average temperatures but also extreme weather events, shifting wildlife populations and habitats, rising seas, and a range of other impacts. All of these changes are emerging as humans continue to add heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
The 2015 Paris Climate Accord/Agreement
The world leaders of the Paris Climate Accord made a commitment to make sure global warming stayed “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. They also agreed to “pursue efforts” to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
This year’s meetings in Madrid are intended to hammer out the last remaining rules on how to implement the Paris climate accord. To make meeting the reduction targets even remotely possible, global leaders must come up with a practical plan for cutting emissions in the next two weeks. Experts say that if the delegates reach a deal on emissions trading, we might just about be able to reach the targets.
How far have we come since the Paris accord?
The UN Emissions Gap report noted that 65 countries (including Britain, France, and Germany) and some “subnational regions,” like California, have begun moving toward net zero greenhouse-gas emissions by the year 2050.
Since 2007, the share of electricity generation in the United States that comes from fossil fuels has fallen from 72 percent to 63 percent, according to a recent Center for American Progress report, This decline is partly a result of federal investments in clean energy and state mandates to reduce pollution.
Getting to net-zero emissions requires changes to transportation, manufacturing, agriculture and more. It requires much more federal investment in research, as well as an open-minded approach that includes new technologies that can remove previously emitted carbon from the atmosphere.
In sharp contrast, the Trump administration gave notice it would withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change. From replacing the Clean Power Plan to attempting to loosen fuel economy standards, it is another push from an administration that has made rolling back environmental regulations a top priority.
The Green New Deal
The Green New Deal is a nonbinding Congressional resolution that calls on the government to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create high-paying jobs, and ensure that clean air, clean water and healthy food are basic human rights.
It envisions sourcing 100 percent of the country’s electricity from renewable and zero-emissions power, digitizing the nation’s power grid, upgrading every building in the country to be more energy-efficient, and overhauling the nation’s transportation system by investing in electric vehicles and high-speed rail.
To address social justice, the resolution says it is the duty of the government to provide job training and new economic development, particularly to communities that currently rely on jobs in fossil fuel industries. It also proposes working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector.
Both Sanders and Biden support the Green Deal resolution.
The Top Candidates Address Climate Change
UPDATED MARCH 11:
Bernie Sanders plan calls for the United States to eliminate fossil fuel by 2050. It declares climate change a national emergency; envisions building new solar, wind and geothermal power sources across the country; and commits $200 billion to help poor nations cope with climate change. It also calls for a moratorium on nuclear power plant license renewals, and it says that the goal of 100 percent sustainable energy “will not rely on any false solutions like nuclear, geoengineering, carbon capture and sequestration, or trash incinerators.”
Biden’s time line for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions states only that the economy ,as a whole, should reach “net zero” emissions by 2050. He’s proposing spending $1.7 trillion over 10 years. He proposes the development of advanced nuclear power plants, and technologies that can capture carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel plants. HE pledges to rejoin the Paris agreement, and work with world leaders to boost goals for emissions cuts. In addition, he says he’ll push to end fossil-fuel subsidies worldwide.
Biden has pledged to spend $400 billion over 10 years and create a new agency, ARPA-C, to accelerate research on small modular nuclear reactors, carbon capture, grid-scale energy storage, and lower-emissions methods for producing steel, cement, hydrogen, and food.
Biden wants to accelerate the shift to cleaner cars and trucks by restoring tax credits for electric vehicles, building out half a million charging stations around the nation, and enacting stricter vehicle mileage standards. He also wants to find ways to encourage the development of sustainable fuels for aircraft, reduce urban sprawl, and increase public transit and high-speed rail systems.
He supports setting a price on carbon, either through a tax or a cap-and-trade program. He isn’t calling for a ban on fracking, a drilling method widely used for natural-gas and oil extraction. He does support “aggressive methane pollution limits” and other tighter regulations on the sector.
Nuclear Power Plants
Nuclear power remains the nation’s largest carbon-neutral energy source, but it faces an uncertain future. Of the 97 U.S. commercial nuclear reactors active as of June 2019, 11 are scheduled for retirement by 2025, including Three Mile Island’s remaining reactor, which shut down this year. Only one new reactor, at the Watts Bar plant in Tennessee, began operating in the past 20 years, and two new reactors are under construction at the Vogtle plant in Georgia, with loan guarantees received from both the Obama and Trump administrations. Still unresolved are questions of how and where we can safely store nuclear waste.
Sanders would phase out nuclear power plants. Biden not clear if he would build more.
Fossil Fuel Exports
The Energy Information Administration expects the United States to become a net energy exporter by 2020. The United States has long exported more coal than it imports and as of 2017 exported more natural gas. Exports of crude oil have shot up since a four-decade ban was lifted in a 2015 spending bill, passed by a Republican-controlled congress and signed by President Barack Obama.
Biden has nodded in the direction of thwarting exports but hasn’t included it in his detailed written plan. Sanders will ban all fossil fuel exports.
Leasing fossil fuel extraction on federal lands
A significant amount of the nation’s fossil fuel production happens on federal lands and waters — 42 percent of coal, 24 percent of crude oil and 13 percent of natural gas in 2017. The extraction and combustion of these fuels accounted for nearly a quarter of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions between 2005 and 2014, according to a study from the U.S. Geological Survey study. The Keep It In the Ground Act by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) would end new federal leases for fossil fuel extraction on federal lands and waters. The Obama administration issued a moratorium on coal leasing in 2016, but it was reversed by the Trump administration, an action that has led to an ongoing legal battle.
Both Biden and Sanders would end this leasing.
Elimination of fossil fuel subsidies
The federal government subsidizes fossil fuel exploration and production through a number of tax breaks. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that these tax breaks cost $4.6 billion in 2016. The Trump administration proposed a rule that would prop up coal by crediting power plants that keep a 90-day supply of fuel; it was rejected by regulators.
Both Sanders and Biden would eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.
UPDATED MARCH 11: POLICIES OF PAST CANDIDATES
Elizabeth Warren’s plan is to to move the U.S. to 100 percent clean energy, spur economic development with a raft of new jobs and protect poor communities dependent on fossil fuels. Her multi pronged approach to addressing climate change would target eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, vehicles and the electric grid while creating millions of new jobs in manufacturing and clean energy.
Peter Buttigieg’s plan calls for doubling clean electricity in the US by 2025, zero emissions in electricity generation by 2035, net-zero emissions from industrial vehicles by 2040, and a net-zero emissions by 2050.The plan also raises a variety of economic tools to accelerate the shift toward a low-carbon future, like climate action bonds, creating a clean energy bank, and ending subsidies for fossil fuels. It includes a special focus on supporting towns and cities like South Bend . He believes every part of the country deserves the chance to participate through energy efficiency upgrades, job training for displaced workers, or resiliency against extreme weather.
Amy Klobuchar‘s plan would implement strict fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and place limits on carbon pollution from power plants. It would create incentives to expand climate research and clean energy. She would ask Congress for more ambitious action, including a law to set a target of 100 percent net zero emissions by 2050, and some kind of price on carbon.
Michael Bloomberg’s plan is to slash U.S. carbon dioxide emissions that are driving climate change by half in 10 years. It calls for replacing all coal plants with clean power plants by 2030. He would quadruple federal funding for clean energy research, expand solar and wind tax credits and create tax incentives for battery storage and hydrogen fuel technology. Bloomberg would factor in climate risks and community impacts in all environmental reviews and beef up enforcement staff at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Tom Steyer’s plan calls for cutting “fossil fuel pollution” from all sectors in order to achieve a 100 percent clean energy economy and net-zero global-warming pollution by 2045. It sets a target of no later than 2030 to eliminate toxic air pollution from diesel engines, power plants and other sources.The plan would also establish a Civilian Climate Corps to create 1 million jobs, as well as training and resources to help communities transition toward clean energy.
Kamala Harris’s plan seeks to make environmental justice a central part of her climate plan, including working with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the avatar of the Green New Deal, to draft a Climate Equity Act. They propose that all environmental and climate legislation and regulations be scored for their impacts on “frontline” communities—the same kind of analysis that is now required for the budget impact of legislation and the economic costs and benefits of regulations. The idea is to maximize the benefits and minimize the negative impacts for those who live in poor and minority neighborhoods that contend with high levels of air and water pollution and are also in the crosshairs of global warming impacts .
In her climate plan Harris pledged $10 trillion in investment over 10 years in the clean energy transition, a plan that catapulted her into the top tier of candidates committing to spend the most on climate actions, but she does not specify how much of that money would come from public spending and how much from the private sector.
These candidates have withdrawn:
Andrew Yang’s plan commits to an aggressive timeline for abandoning fossil fuels: a zero-emissions requirement for all new cars by 2030, a 100 percent renewable electric grid by 2035, net-zero emissions from transportation by 2040, and net-zero emissions overall by 2049 . He would set a carbon tax of $40 per ton, rising gradually to $100 per ton. He proposes massive subsidies for two alternatives to traditional nuclear reactors: nuclear fusion and thorium power. A section of his plan called “Moving to Higher Ground” focuses on supporting humans in adapting to climate related disasters.
Cory Booker’s plan would direct spending to develop clean energy, energy storage and electric vehicle technologies. It would establish a carbon fee and dividend program that would return money to citizens on a monthly basis. The plan would shoot to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2030 and a carbon neutral economy by 2045. It would create an Environmental Justice Fund, to replace all lead drinking water pipes, clean up polluted sites around the country and ensure proper wastewater disposal for households. In addition the plan involves planting billions of trees, turbo-charging sustainable agriculture practices and reestablishing the Civilian Conservation Corps to help provide young people with jobs.
The December 19 Debate
Candidates must meet the following requirement:
contributions from 200,000 unique donors
And one of two polling requirements between Oct 16 and Dec 12:
two polls at 6 percent or more in the four early nominating states:
Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina
four polls at 4 percent or more in early nominating states or national surveys
Seven candidates have qualified for the December debate :
Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Peter Buttigieg, Amy Klobucher , Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang
The following candidates are still in the race, as of December 7, 2019, should you want to explore their climate change proposals:
Julian Castro, Michael Bennet, Tulsi Gabbard, John Delaney, Marianne Williamson, Deval Patrick, and Michael Bloomberg
- Watch the sixth Primary Debate co-hosted by PBS NewsHour and Politico on Thursday, December 19 at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
- Get involved with any of the top environmental advocacy groups: National Resources Defense Council
Friends of The Earth
Environmental Defense Fund
- Attend rallies and public events for 2020 presidential and congressional candidates. Each presidential candidate will list activities and dates under the “Events” link. Your Congressional member will post town hall meetings and fundraising events.
- Volunteer and Donate Your Democratic House Representatives are already beginning their campaigns for re-election in 2020, along with 12 Democratic Senators.
- Follow the candidate(s) on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
Income Inequality in America