THE U.N. CLIMATE SCIENTISTS PREDICT CATASTROPHIC IMPACTS AS EARLY AS 2040
Last year effectively tied 2016 as the hottest year on record, U.S. and European climate researchers recently announced, as global temperatures continued their relentless rise brought on by the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. These record warm temperatures fueled deadly heat waves, droughts, intense wildfires and other environmental disasters here in the United States and around the world. This occurred last year despite the development in the second half of the year of La Niña, a global climate phenomenon marked by surface cooling across much of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. According to the European Union report, the global average temperature in 2020 wasabout 2.25 degrees Fahrenheit (1.25 degrees Celsius) warmer than the preindustrial average.
Scientists Warn us to Take Urgent Action as Planet Warms at an Alarming Rate
Two years ago the climate scientists warned us in a Special Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at current rate, the atmosphere will warm by up to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) by 2040, resulting in catastrophic impacts like inundated coastlines causing massive population relocations, intensified droughts that worsen food shortages, and mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040. Unfortunately, global emissions have continued unabated, rising at 1.4% per year for the past several years. Now, according to a 2019 UN Emissions Gap Report we must reduce global emissions by 7.6 percent per year for the next ten years. In the 2018 IPCC Report, scientists concluded that leaders must reduce global emissions to net-zero emissions by 2050 to stand any chanceof avoiding the most severe impacts of this climate crisis. They also concluded that even faster reductions in global emission to reach net-zero emissions in 2040 would result in a higher probability of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius than reaching that target in 2050.
In the weeks and months ahead, we have our best opportunity for significant progress in controlling the climate crisis. President-elect Biden has selected key cabinet and staff people who have an established records in working on the transition to renewable sources of energy. During his campaign, Biden proposed a strong climate plan; we support its focus on transportation, electricity, building efficiency, creation of millions of good paying jobs, and its prioritization of climate justice. But it will not get us to the aggressive emission reduction targets above in time to avoid catastrophic impacts. Our purpose is not to critique the plan but to recommend six additional actions to enhance the plans’ ability to meet the aggressive timelines required to protect the health, safety and livelihoods of people across the planet.
Our Recommendations for Biden’s Climate Action Plan are as follows:
Accelerate the Timeline: During the campaign, President-elect Biden pledged to ensure that the U.S. achieve a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions no later than 2050. Within its first 100 days, the Biden Administration must create an ambitious national climate action plan that achieves the net-zero emissions goal as fast as possible, and ideally by 2040 to reduce the probability of catastrophic climate change.
Support Carbon Fee and Dividend: As a single action, placing a fee on carbon at its source and returning the funds to families on a monthly basis as in the congressional bill “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act”, HR 763, would have the most efficient impact in decreasing fossil fuel use and carbon emissions.
Stop Subsidizing Fossil Fuels: The Federal Government must remove subsidies from the fossil fuel industries. The most conservative estimate in direct subsidies is $20 billion annually, but this does not include discounted cost for fossil fuel extraction on federal lands or indirect tax breaks. These funds need to be itemized and diverted to support the implementation of the National Climate Plan and the new solar and wind infrastructure needed in all 50 states. During his campaign, Biden pledged to work with G20 countries to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and to lead by example at home by cutting U.S. fossil fuel subsides in his first year and to re-direct those resources to invest in clean energy. We strongly support this pledge and urge the President to include it in his Climate Action Plan.
Incentivize the Power Sector to Transition to Renewable Energy: Reducing and eliminating coal burning power plants is among the most impactful actions the Biden Administration can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the recent past, we have idled 145 coal burning units. As a result, coal burning emissions are down from 31% in 2017 to 20% today. There are plans to idle another 71 coal units within the next two years. But, as utility companies close down these coal units, they are replacing the majority with gas-fired stations with operating-life expectancies of 30 to 40 years. The Biden team must work with Congress to incentivize utility companies to replace coal with renewable energy, rather than continuing to rely on polluting fossil fuels, like natural gas, which contributes to climate change. Biden can do this by taking immediate action to implement his campaign pledge to reform and extend tax incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy and establish a clean energy standard for utilities and grid operators.
Eliminate any Non-essential Plastics: Eleven million tons of petroleum resourced plastics enter the oceans each year (the equivalent of dumping a full garbage truck of plastic in the ocean every minute of every day for one year). This figure is predicted to triple over the next 20 years. Tiny plastic particles are now pervasive in the air we breathe and in our waterways. They account for 4.2 million premature deaths globally each year. The fossil fuel industry is increasing plastic production to offset the loss of revenues they are experiencing. Uncontrolled plastic contamination and pollution is a violation of both the Clean Air Act and The Clean Water Act and the EPA has ignored this serious issue for the past four years. Today, nearly 8% of annual global oil consumption is associated with plastics, according to the World Economic Forum. If this reliance on plastics persists, plastics will account for 20% of all oil consumption by 2050. (Brooke Bauman, How Plastics Contribute to Climate Change,).
Declare a Climate Emergency: This would allow the President to work directly with organizations and corporations with specific expertise to quickly develop technologies and capabilities not presently available to more readily transition to renewable energy. The following are specific areas of need:
- Home Heating. Presently 90% plus of private homes or apartments are heated by either natural gas or oil. We need a reliable carbon free alternative like electric heating pumps that can easily be installed on boilers and hot water tanks and enable utility companies to replace fossil fuel service to many qualifying customers.
- Carbon Capture Capability. Present carbon capture capabilities proposed by the petroleum industry will not reduce carbon emissions. Oil companies propose transporting captured carbon back to drilling locations to produce more natural gas or oil. This proposed process will only produce more methane or carbon emissions. We must not divert scarce financial resources to support this misguided approach. We need a major initiative to explore natural carbon capture such as regenerative farming methods and enhanced development of our natural resources.
- Fast Rail, Air travel and Large Trucks. The U.S. is behind other industrial countries in fast rail options. Large truck transport is a major source of CO2 emissions and subsidies should be available for further development and production of electric truck transport. During his campaign, Biden committed to ensure that the U.S. “has the cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world – for both passengers and freight.” We urge President Biden to include in his Climate Action Plan immediate actions to achieve this goal. Also, incentives should be available for further research and development of the use of electric energy for air transport, which is showing some feasibility.
- Military Impact on Carbon Emissions. The U.S. military is the largest single user of petroleum products, with over 900 bases and a vast amount of heavy equipment. To their credit they have worked on reducing their carbon emissions but an independent commission must review what is needed and make recommendations to achieve substantially more emissions reductions, including downsizing.
Every year we are still pumping 40 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere globally. Climate scientists now give us ten years to make significant progress in reducing carbon emissions and until mid-century or sooner to reach net-zero carbon emissions to avoid unstoppable catastrophic impacts. These six recommendations would strengthen Biden’s climate plan to help achieve these goals. The Biden team and our Illinois congressional representatives must lead by improving public education on climate science, emphasizing the urgent need for action by all levels of government, companies and citizens to respond to this climate crisis.
Last week Prime Minister Boris Johnson, host of the November Climate meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, has already increased the UK commitment to reducing climate emissions by 69% by 2030. His plan and leadership are based on science and on the understanding of urgency needed to change the emission commitments made by governments and corporations.
Local environmental and climate working groups must meet with our bipartisan lawmakers from Illinois to stress the urgent need for climate legislation to protect communities in the U.S. and around world and our planet from ruin. There will be no vaccine to protect us when the global temperatures exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius and threaten lives, livelihoods and ecosystems around the globe.
Written and Submitted by:
Jack Kelly, co-chair of the CAPA Climate Group
Catherine Buntin, co-chair of the CAPA Climate Group