A year ago, in October 2018, the issue took on new urgency when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a stark appraisal of the latest climate science: Humanity has only three decades to completely reinvent the global economy in order to eliminate net greenhouse gas pollution and hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.5 The differences between the previous target of 2 degrees and the new target of 1.5 degrees of global warming are startling, including greater harm to food and water supplies; major and potentially irreversible loss of ecosystems, such as the world’s fragile coral reefs; a higher rate of sea level rise; and irreparable loss or collapse of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland.6 Every year of continued emissions raises the peak temperatures that carbon pollution will inflict, threatening destruction that can never be undone.
As the IPCC special report warned, the sheer scale of the challenge now facing the world has no precedent in all of human history. To meet this challenge, the president must organize the whole of government, and Congress must break through deeply entrenched gridlock to enact and execute a sweeping program of legislation. The United States has faced and overcome challenges that, at the time, were unprecedented, including working as a nation to go to the moon, electrifying rural America, and eradicating smallpox. The United States can and must address this crisis by putting people to work; building the necessary infrastructure to overcome the threat; and confronting the economic, racial, social injustices and inequalities that persist today.
Success is within reach, and it’s now possible to visualize a 100 Percent Clean Future. The American public is demanding action, and it’s time for political leaders to summon the courage to act. While the Trump administration has dismantled nearly all federal climate policy, state leadership has risen to the challenge with innovative and ambitious new policies. The combination of the following three pillars—100 percent clean, worker-focused, and environmental justice—should serve as a model for federal action, building on the initial efforts at the state level.
It will take a combination of strong coalitions and knowledge from environmental justice experts, community advocates, labor partners, and others beyond the climate community to develop an innovative and equitable policy approach for major climate action that includes putting people to work, reducing pollution, and building healthy communities today—not just in the future. The coalitions to develop and support this ambitious policy approach have begun to organize. However, this is uncharted territory for many and will require a promise to see beyond historical differences in order to believe that progress is both possible and essential to solving the problems of today and tomorrow. Many of the candidates in the 2020 presidential election have framed their ambitious goals for climate action in a similar way.
While this initial progress is commendable, much more work remains to be done, especially to guarantee pollution reductions in economically disadvantaged communities and communities of color and to address the cumulative and deadly impacts of the history of pollution sources concentrated in these communities. Policy must take a comprehensive approach, including supporting access to affordable electricity, clean water, and good jobs in every community.
In this report, the Center for American Progress presents a framework for building a 100 Percent Clean Future that delivers on the goal of net-zero greenhouse emissions economywide by 2050 and net negative emissions thereafter to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. This report outlines not only the policies that are needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions but also the coalitions and principles that will make them a reality. To accomplish this transition as quickly as the science demands, the report calls for strong economywide targets, sets sector-by-sector benchmarks for success, estimates the emission reductions these would deliver, and discusses how to spur the rest of the world to follow along. This report is divided into two parts:
In Part 1, CAP discusses the coalitions and principles needed to enact federal climate policy by outlining how the IPCC special report on 1.5 degrees Celsius has set a new goal of net-zero by 2050; proposing principles for federal climate policy to achieve this goal; reviewing models of climate policy success among the states; and summarizing an emerging consensus for federal action.
Throughout President Barack Obama’s terms in office, the United States led the rest of the world in aiming to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. In this period, the United States made great strides; emissions fell 13 percent from 2005 to 2017 at the same time as the economy grew 21 percent.89 Policy drove down the cost of renewables, and deployment surged. The 2015 Paris agreement brought the world together to commit to nationally established emission reduction targets by all countries for the first time—a target that would be strengthened over the course of continued discussions to stabilize global temperatures.10 By the end of the Obama administration, the United States had prepared plans to reduce emissions by more than 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050, consistent with a target of capping warming at 2 degrees Celsius. Though the country needed to be moving even faster at that point, it was moving in the right direction.
Today, at a time when the United States should be accelerating its efforts to limit warming, the Trump administration has returned the country to a pathway of increasing emissions. After falling for three consecutive years, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose by over 3 percent in 2018.11 The United States is now likely to miss its Paris pledge to cut emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 202512, as seen in Figure 1.
Hard-won progress on climate policy under the Obama administration was abandoned and actively sabotaged by the Trump administration. At every opportunity, Trump and his team have moved to line the pockets of fossil fuel industry executives at the expense of the health and safety of Americans.
In 2017, the Trump administration announced the intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement, making the United States the only country that would not be at the table setting the rules for the world to follow on climate action.13
Domestically, the administration is trying to freeze national vehicle greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards over the objections of even the automakers,14 sticking drivers with higher fuel costs (a win for oil companies) and everyone with more air pollution. These rollbacks are so extreme that four automakers have struck a separate deal with California to largely implement the Obama standards.15
In parallel, the Trump administration has tried to undermine innovation in the clean energy industry and keep the economy stuck in the past by repeatedly attempting to defund federal research and development (R&D) programs that support American jobs. They scrapped commonsense limits on methane pollution from oil and gas production, including on public lands, where venting natural gas directly into the air means less economic benefit for the American people who are the true owners of the resources.1617 They replaced the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants with a plan that would allow many plants to skate by without any new emissions controls and could potentially even prompt emissions to increase from the sector.1819 The Trump administration proposed drilling for oil that the country does not need and which may not exist20 in the pristine and long-protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In addition, the administration ignored the objections from governors of both parties to push expanded offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf Coast of Florida while also rolling back the worker protections and equipment safety standards developed to prevent another oil rig explosion like the Deepwater Horizon.21
This is just the damage that is public. The Trump administration’s environmental cabinet is packed with political appointees—“Trump’s dirty deputies”—who now regulate the polluting industries they once served.22 For example, Trump’s EPA head, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal lobbyist whose highest paying client was Murray Energy, a coal company run by coal magnate and Trump donor Bob Murray. Former EPA air chief Bill Wehrum, thought to be the architect of replacing the Clean Power Plan with a weak, industry-friendly rule, sued the Obama administration’s EPA no fewer than 31 times in his former job as an industry lawyer in an effort to loosen pressure on polluters.23 And Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist who has pushed for public lands and waters leasing at levels not seen in recent decades, has the most stated ethics conflicts of all Trump cabinet level appointees24—a distinction that is impressive in a cabinet rife with conflicts of interest.
By 2018, the Trump administration’s alarming reversals of climate policy had already made it apparent that restoring the country’s previous momentum toward the Paris agreement’s goals of “well below” 2 degrees Celsius of global warming would be a challenge. That challenge gained new urgency in October 2018 with the publication of the special report on 1.5 degrees Celsius from the IPCC.25 This report brought into sharp focus the conclusion that 2 degrees of global warming is no longer an acceptable threshold.
The special report summarized the world’s leading research on what will happen if the world continues to push global warming from the current 1 degree Celsius up by even just another half a degree, to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The differences between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees Celsius of global warming are startling, including greater harm to the world’s food and water supplies; major and potentially irreversible loss of ecosystems such as the world’s fragile coral reefs; a higher rate of sea level rise; and irreparable loss or collapse of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland.26 One of the most alarming differences is that failing to bring temperatures back down to 1.5 degrees Celsius this century would, in most projections, mean the world will still be warming in 2100, with untold consequences.27
Stabilizing global temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming is possible, but the IPCC report’s authors warn that the scale of this transformation has “no documented historic precedent,” requires “rapid and far-reaching transitions,” and implies “deep emissions reductions in all sectors”.28 This amounts to a global call to action in perhaps the strongest terms employed by the scientific community to date.
The conclusions of the special report define a new target. To bring the current global warming trajectory back down to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, global carbon dioxide emissions must fall 40 percent to 60 percent below 2010 levels by 2030; reach net-zero by 2050; and be net negative thereafter. The IPCC also noted that non-CO2 emissions, such as methane, need to be steeply reduced, though they may not reach net-zero globally.
To meet this target requires a significant acceleration in required emissions reductions, as the previous goal of 2 degrees Celsius meant only a 25 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions only by 2070.29 To put this in perspective, in 2009, at the start of President Obama’s first term, the world would have had about 60 years to eliminate an annual emission rate of 48 billion tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent to stay below 2 degrees Celsius this century.30 In 2021, at the start of the next presidential term, the world will only have about 30 years to eliminate an annual emission rate expected to have edged up from the current 53 billion tons if we are to return to 1.5 degrees Celsius.31 That is more than double the annual pace of reduction.
Bold new thinking and action is required if the world is to keep up with the targets set by the scientific community. After years of development, many policies and technologies are ready for immediate deployment, but no one yet has all the answers about how to accomplish a complete and timely transition. This is especially true when it comes to negative emission technologies, forecasting the threats to natural carbon sinks, and developing technologies for hard-to-decarbonize sectors such as manufacturing, all of which are areas where innovation is needed. When it comes to scientific research, technology deployment, infrastructure investment, and so much more, there is no time to spare in getting the country onto a path toward net-zero emissions.
Despite his promises to coal communities, President Donald Trump’s reversing course on climate policy has not saved coal mining jobs. Since the beginning of the Trump administration, market forces, such as low-cost natural gas, have continued to drive the closure of coal-fired power plants. Utility companies have announced the retirement of 102 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired power from the grid since 2010.32 Not only have coal plant retirements continued in the Trump administration, they have actually accelerated, increasing from an average of 6.8 GW per year between 2010 and 2016 to 8.8 GW per year since Trump took office.33 The truth is that environmental regulations were never the cause of falling coal employment: 93 percent of the decline in coal demand arose from market factors, according to an analysis from Columbia University.34 These market pressures help explain why even direct political pressure from Trump has not been sufficient to prevent coal plants from closing.35 In June 2019, use of coal in the United States fell to a four-decade low.36
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has pursued policies that actively hurt miners and their families while helping coal executives profit. In fact, many of these executives are significant Trump donors.37 Trump and his allies in Congress allowed an excise tax that supports payments to miners suffering from black lung disease to fall by half at the end of 2018, while supporting billions of dollars in tax breaks for fossil fuel companies.38 This comes at a time when black lung cases are on the rise. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has tweeted daily at President Trump since the lapse in early 2019, imploring him to support the American Miners Act that would fully fund retired miners’ pensions and healthcare.39
Trump appointed Bill Wehrum, a former coal industry lawyer, as his chief air regulator at the EPA. It was Wehrum, in his role as a coal lawyer, who argued in court against standards to protect miners and construction workers from dangerous silica dust, which can lead to silicosis and other respiratory diseases.40 Instead of investing in communities and worker transitions in the wake of plant closures, Trump’s first budget proposed eliminating the Appalachian Regional Commission and cutting other economic development and worker training projects in coal country.41 And then there’s the Trump administration’s repeated efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would have had a devastating effect on Appalachia. One analysis found that 670,000 people would have lost insurance in West Virginia and Kentucky alone and more than 70,000 jobs would have been eliminated.42
Likewise, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) from the coal state of Kentucky has also failed to support worker benefits, despite his state employing more than 6,000 miners, including his continued refusal to fully fund miners’ pensions.43 The Miners Pension Protection Act, which would transfer additional funding to the miners’ pension fund to keep it solvent and ensure healthcare for retired miners,44 has been introduced four times since 2015. Sen. McConnell has actively blocked it.45
Setting a target for greenhouse gas emission reductions is an act of leadership that relies on consideration of a combination of policy principles, available models, data, and feasibility. Failing to set a sufficiently ambitious interim target would fail to inspire the scope of changes needed, necessitate ever steeper reductions in later years, and magnify the damages of climate change. No target will be effective, however, if it pushes emissions-intensive agriculture and industry overseas (harming both the U.S. economy and global emissions) or provokes a political backlash that reverses policy changes.
People of all communities need to see the benefits of climate action in their own lives and have a voice in shaping their future. Those benefits extend beyond just the avoided disruption of climate change to include good jobs, clean water, and justice for the communities of color, tribal communities, and low-income communities that have lived with the cumulative impacts of decades of toxic pollution. As state-level and international examples illustrate, failing to center policy on the needs of workers and communities will undermine popular support for climate action, may even create backlash, and ultimately slow progress toward net-zero emissions.
For this report, the Center for American Progress synthesizes existing literature and modeling and evaluates the combined effect of various policies against a target of at least a 43 percent46 reduction below 2005 levels in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions no later than 2050. This is based on the interquartile range for cutting carbon dioxide emissions identified by the IPCC report on 1.5 degrees Celsius, restating the equivalent reduction against 2005 levels rather than 2010 levels, and also adding in all other greenhouse gas emissions.
The 2030 and 2050 targets identified in this report are extraordinarily ambitious, requiring reduction of emissions at a rate that is four times faster than the annual rate of reductions achieved between 2005 and 2017.47 Achieving these targets will require a new set of policy principles. These are the 10 principles that underpin CAP’s recommendations:
CAP conducted public opinion polling49 with research firm GBAO to collect empirical data on American public attitudes toward national security and foreign policy and to identify the principles that resonate with the general public beyond national security experts and opinion elites. The polling found that 93 percent of American voters support working together with allies to address shared global challenges such as climate change. Additionally, 90 percent of voters believe the United States cannot address these problems on its own and must work closely with allies to do so.
This support remains strong across partisan lines, with virtually all Democrats (96 percent), more than 9 in 10 Republicans (92 percent), and almost as many independents (87 percent) saying the United States is safer and stronger working with allies and partners to combat global challenges, including climate change.
After President Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement, states representing 55 percent of the U.S. population and 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions committed to upholding the Paris agreement’s climate goals. Since then, nine states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have announced ambitious plans to transition to a 100 Percent Clean Future by midcentury, many with strong interim targets to get them on track. Nine of these states and territories have mandated 100 percent clean electricity by statute. Six—California, Hawaii, Colorado, New York, Maine, and New Jersey—have set ambitious economywide emissions reductions targets by 2050.
In considering a successful strategy for action at the federal level, the experiences of some states can help provide lessons for how to create strong coalitions around policy action. Several states have begun to pair 100 percent clean or renewable targets with policies to address toxic pollution in communities and help ensure that new clean jobs are good-paying, high-quality jobs.
While this initial progress is commendable, much more work remains to be done. Environmental justice advocates have raised concerns about how environmental justice and equity issues have been considered and incorporated in New York, New Jersey, and California, for example. At both the state and federal level, greater collaboration with environmental justice experts is needed to design climate policies that guarantee pollution reductions in economically disadvantaged communities and communities of color and to address the cumulative and deadly impacts of the history of pollution sources concentrated in these communities. More broadly, policy must take a comprehensive approach, including supporting access to affordable electricity, clean water, and good jobs in every community.
Below are examples of states that have enacted preliminary policies to advance environmental justice and create good, high-paying jobs. The focus here is simply on the enacted policies; this is not an endorsement of or commentary on the merits of any particular state’s community or public engagement process, unique on-the-ground dynamics, or coalition activity.
California: In 2017, then-Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill to extend California’s cap-and-trade program through 2030.62 In 2018, the legislature passed a law committing the state to 100 percent clean electricity by 2045 and Gov. Brown signed an executive order that same day committing California to economywide carbon neutrality by 2045.63 Alongside expansion of California’s cap-and-trade program in 2017, then-Gov. Brown signed AB-617, which requires the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to directly address air quality in communities most exposed to toxic and criteria air pollutants by consulting with environmental justice organizations, affected industries, and other stakeholder groups to prepare a statewide strategy for air quality.64
Additionally, shortly after expansion of California’s cap-and-trade program, then-Gov. Brown signed the Buy Clean California Act, the world’s first legislative action to address carbon emissions from imported manufacturing materials and received strong support from labor unions, business and industry leaders, and environmental organizations.65 The Newsom administration has strengthened labor protections in the state’s climate program, committing $35 million per year of California’s cap-and-trade revenues in the 2019-2020 budget to two programs focused on ensuring that jobs created by clean energy investment programs are high-quality jobs. These include support for High Road Training Partnerships, which bring together employers, workers, community colleges, other training partners, and community groups to identify regional economic growth trends and investments needed in training to support high-quality jobs in these areas. Recognizing that nearly 60 percent of all jobs created by clean energy investment programs are in the construction trades, the budget also supports a high road construction career ladders program, providing pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships into multicraft construction careers.
New York: In June 2019, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, setting a legislative target of net-zero emissions economywide by 2050.66 New York learned lessons from elsewhere and incorporated worker-focused and environmental justice provisions in the bill from the outset. The bill sets the economywide target and then leaves the policy development to be led by a 22-member Climate Action Council, which will appoint advisory panels on particular sectors and topics.67 New York’s law states that a minimum of 35 percent of all state climate and clean energy spending, including funds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the state’s Clean Energy Fund, and any future initiatives established by this program go to disadvantaged communities. Additionally, the law creates a climate justice working group with representatives from environmental justice groups, vulnerable industries, and disadvantaged communities, to advise on how to ensure the transition reduces pollution that disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color.68
The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act requires the creation of a just-transition working group to advise on workforce training and job impacts. In addition, the New York State Public Service Commission’s offshore wind order includes commitments to project labor agreements and prevailing wages as contract requirements for awarded projects.69 As a result of these provisions, labor has supported the offshore wind request for proposals—the projects selected for contract negotiation will feature jobs with salaries of approximately $100,000.70
Washington: In May 2019, Washington enacted one of the strongest state electricity sector legislative policies in the country with a target to phase out coal by 2025; achieve 80 percent clean power sector emissions by 2030; and reach 100 percent clean power by 2045.71 The bill was part of a comprehensive legislative package designed to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the economy, including complementary bills to increase energy efficiency in buildings, promote transportation electrification, and phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Thanks to Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D) persistence, this package passed successfully despite several previously unsuccessful ballot initiatives to enact a carbon tax.
Implementation of the bill includes completion of a Cumulative Impact Analysis to identify the communities most vulnerable to climate and environmental health impacts. There are provisions for utilities to fund low-income energy assistance programs, such as direct bill reductions, weatherization, energy efficiency improvements, and “direct customer ownership in distributed energy resources.”72 The bill also includes a tiered system of 50 to 100 percent sales and use tax exemptions for projects that meet certain labor requirements, including contracts with women, minority, or veteran-owned businesses, compensation of workers at prevailing wages determined by collective bargaining, and projects developed under a community workforce or project labor agreement.73
Colorado: On May 30, 2019, Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed legislation to set binding statewide greenhouse gas reduction targets of 26 percent by 2025; 50 percent by 2030; and 90 percent by 2050.74 Leading up to the signing of this law, the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, announced a commitment to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050 in Colorado.75 This was one of the 11 bills the governor signed, encompassing provisions ranging from the integration of the social cost of carbon in utility decision-making and electric vehicle infrastructure to new building codes and energy efficiency standards for appliances.76 The law requires tracking of conventional pollutants from regulated sources and implementation of strategies to reduce pollution in disproportionately impacted communities that have borne the costs of pollution.77
The state enacted legislation to create a state Office of Just Transition, with support from the Colorado AFL-CIO.78 The office is tasked with aligning and delivering targeted programming and funding to communities and workers impacted by a transition away from coal-fired electricity. The state also enacted plans for community assistance to any local government or school district that will lose revenue due to plant retirements.
In the past year, there has been an emerging consensus at the national level around principles for federal climate action centered on advancing economic, racial, and environmental justice goals and that underscore the importance of including affected voices, including workers and historically disadvantaged communities, in the creation of climate solutions. Coalition platforms have emerged as the result of many months of trust-building, cooperation, and negotiation between groups. And in the past several months, many presidential candidates have put forth ambitious climate change policy platforms.
While they differ in scope and specifics, these platforms and plans have embraced the IPCC target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The IPCC notes that this goal requires net-zero greenhouse gas emissions globally by around 2050 and net negative emissions thereafter, meaning that a combination of natural carbon sinks and negative emission technologies will be needed to draw historical emissions out of the atmosphere and oceans. The related concept of “pollution free” incorporates all pollution, not only greenhouse gases, and emphasizes that pollution sources must be eliminated and not merely offset by negative emissions elsewhere.
Building upon these platforms and others will be critical to successful climate action at the national level.
On February 7, 2019, the Sunrise Movement, a coalition of young climate activists around the country, and the Justice Democrats worked with Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) to put forth H.Res 109—Recognizing the Duty of the Government to create a Green New Deal.79 The resolution calls for a nationwide 10-year mobilization to put the United States on the path to net-zero emissions by 2050. It calls for an inclusive process engaging communities and stakeholder groups, with a focus on American workers and frontline and vulnerable communities.
On June 24, 2019, the BlueGreen Alliance (BGA) released “Solidarity for Climate Action”—a set of policy principles that reflect a consensus between the eight major labor unions and six prominent national green groups—that represents the first comprehensive plan to address climate change put forward by some of America’s largest unions.80 BGA’s platform presents a vision and policy principles to achieve a target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and advocates for efforts to increase union representation throughout the United States to tackle income inequality that permeates throughout the American economy.
On July 18, 2019, U.S. environmental justice and national environmental groups together released the “Equitable and Just National Climate Platform” through a process that was co-led by the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED), CAP, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), with support from the Midwest Environmental Justice Network and the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance. The platform highlights a shared vision for national climate action that confronts racial, economic, and environmental injustice as it enacts deep cuts in climate and local pollution and accelerates a clean energy future that benefits all communities. The more than 200 signatories believe that the United States must commit to ambitious emission reduction goals and contribute equitably to global efforts to stabilize the climate system by limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The platform calls for the United States to be on this path by 2030 as well as for a policy agenda that builds a more inclusive economy and cuts local pollution in overburdened communities.
Economically disadvantaged communities, tribal communities, and communities of color have historically been marginalized in the development of national climate policies. Confronting the legacies of systemic racism and injustice will require a much closer collaboration with environmental justice advocates to incorporate their perspective and expertise. While there are broad areas of agreement, these communities have well-founded concerns about market-based policy mechanisms, nuclear waste, and carbon capture and sequestration. These and other questions of policy design require stronger dialogue and collaboration to ensure the agenda for climate action achieves pollution-free communities to protect and advance the right of all people “to breathe clean air, live free of dangerous levels of toxic pollution, access healthy food, and share the benefits of a prosperous and vibrant clean economy.” 81
On the campaign trail, many presidential candidates have prioritized bold new goals for climate action that reflect the scale and urgency of the challenge. The proposals signal increasing alignment on achieving net-zero emissions by midcentury, prioritizing a worker-centered transition and environmental justice, and rejoining the Paris agreement. Building on this emerging consensus, candidates have identified a wide range of specific policy levers for climate action across all domestic sectors which together lay the groundwork for an ambitious and effective policy agenda.
The state-level policy successes and the principles in the coalition platforms discussed previously provide solid groundwork upon which to build national policies to aggressively reduce emissions, ensure a path to a worker-centered transition to a clean economy, and reduce or eliminate pollution that has disproportionately affected economically disadvantaged communities and communities of color.
This alignment is extremely encouraging but is just a start. Much more work must now be done to intentionally design policies that achieve racial and environmental justice, build an inclusive economy, and chart a pathway to a stable climate. It is important for coalitions and policymakers to consider the pros and cons of different approaches to carbon pollution mitigation through the lenses of effectiveness; racial, economic, and environmental justice; job creation; and traditional pollution reduction.
What combination of economywide and sector-specific policies will have the fastest timeline for enactment, implementation, and pollution reduction? Can market mechanisms and nonmarket mechanisms be combined in a way that both accelerates overall greenhouse gas emission reductions and guarantees local pollution reductions for all communities, especially those that have historically been overburdened by high levels of pollution? What incentives or other conditions could be applied to the U.S. manufacturing sector to bolster high-quality job creation at home while decarbonizing industries? Can new trade and industrial policies create job and export opportunities for the manufacturing sector at the same time as it decarbonizes?
The next section of this report focuses specifically on the emissions mitigation policies in each sector that will be necessary to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This is just one piece of a broader agenda to mitigate emissions; adapt to climate change; advance environmental, economic, and racial justice goals; and create high-quality jobs.
In Part 2, the Center for American Progress surveys the emission sources in each sector of the economy; proposes specific benchmarks to measure success; and recommends a broad program of international, economywide, and sector-specific policies to deliver on an interim emissions reduction target of at least 43 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050 and net negative emissions thereafter. This is consistent with the interquartile range for cutting carbon dioxide emissions identified by the IPCC report on 1.5 degrees Celsius.
As discussed in Part 1, mitigation policies are just one part of the larger program that is needed to address the needs of workers and communities disproportionately affected by historic pollution. This paper does not provide a comprehensive treatment of this larger program—which requires the ongoing leadership of the environmental justice and labor movements—but aims to present mitigation policies that are consistent with the broader objectives. Similarly, while this report does not offer a specific investment plan, these policies will need to be supported by trillions of dollars in direct federal spending. Opportunities for job creation and stronger, healthier communities are suggested throughout the following sections for policymakers to further explore and develop in collaboration with environmental justice and labor experts.
The vision for a 100 Percent Clean Future is centered on pollution-free energy, widespread prosperity, and stable global temperatures. By 2050, millions of American workers will be in high-quality jobs, driving the clean energy economy. Homes, schools, and playgrounds in every community, especially those that have historically suffered from pollution, will get the healthy air, clean water, and stable climate that they deserve. Abundant clean electricity sources will serve a responsive network of all-electric appliances and zero-emission vehicles. Communities will be connected by a seamless system of transit and human-centered, smog-free streets. Farmers will be rewarded for restoring degraded soil. American exports of cleanly manufactured goods will dominate the world market. And industrial process emissions will be isolated and diverted into rehabilitated pipelines to be sequestered in shale formations that once supplied fossil fuels.
In this report, CAP outlines a framework for climate change mitigation that prescribes strong economywide greenhouse gas emission targets broken down into sector-by-sector benchmarks, each supported by a wide range of complementary policies. These six sector-specific benchmarks are enough to achieve roughly 90 percent of the emission reductions required by 2030 and 2050. The estimated greenhouse gas emission reductions associated with each of these benchmarks are described in Table 1 and illustrated in Figure 1.
Additional policies beyond these benchmarks will be necessary to meet the economywide greenhouse gas reduction goals. The report recommends an innovation agenda for research and development, the formation of a National Climate Council within the White House, a price on carbon, and an international strategy of diplomacy, trade, and finance. Additional policies are discussed throughout this paper that contribute to emission reductions above and beyond the six benchmarks, and a section on further improvements identifies even more options for cutting emissions.
Forcing polluters to pay for the harm they cause is the textbook approach to cutting pollution, but no policy to set a price on carbon will by itself be enough to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, make all communities pollution-free, and drive international action.
Carbon price models show that substantial emissions reductions are possible, especially in the electricity sector, where even just a $15 per ton fee would cut coal use 68 percent by 2030 and a $25 per ton fee would cut coal use 89 percent.82 However, carbon pricing does not drive the long-term infrastructure and fleet turnover changes that need to begin immediately in the transportation, buildings, manufacturing and land-use sectors. Even in the electricity sector, a carbon price could lock in natural gas infrastructure—boosting consumption 14 percent to 17 percent in the prior examples83—which would complicate the pathway to net-zero by 2050 if not supported by additional policy. Furthermore, a price on carbon does not guarantee pollution reductions in every community and, by itself, could actually increase pollution in neighborhoods that have historically borne the brunt of pollution from refineries, power plants, and highways.8485 Ultimately, the long-term effectiveness of carbon pricing relies on sending a clear signal to guide investment, but as international examples in Australia and Alberta have demonstrated, the reliability of this signal is undermined by the risk of abrupt swings in policy.
Carbon pricing can still be effective as a complementary policy because it can encompass the entire economy—spurring conservation, efficiency, fuel switching, and innovation everywhere and all at once, beyond the scope of targeted sectoral policies. Pricing can also take effect without waiting for years of litigation about administrative procedure and can continuously encourage the invention of ever better systems of emission reduction in every sector. In addition, carbon prices raise revenues that can support other important programs. Even if the Senate continues to allow the abuse of the filibuster, a carbon fee is a clear-cut candidate for enactment under budget reconciliation instructions, which require just 51 votes for passage.
In order to ensure that the program of federal climate policy leads to durable, popular, and sustainable emissions reductions that guarantee the elimination of fossil-fuel related pollution in every community, CAP recommends a combination of a broad price on carbon, a border adjustment tariff, point source emission controls, direct federal investments in infrastructure and research, sector-specific policies, and more. As the IPCC special report on 1.5 degrees Celsius articulated, “While an explicit carbon pricing mechanism is central to prompt mitigation scenarios compatible with 1.5 °C pathways, a complementary mix of stringent policies is required.”86Additional elements of this larger program are discussed in the following sections.
For the United States to meet its decarbonization goals and become a global leader in clean technologies, the federal government must significantly increase its climate and energy R&D budgets. In light of a 1.5 degrees target, a working paper by the UNFCCC suggests member countries invest in R&D for climate technologies at levels above the original Mission Innovation goal of doubling investments.87 Promisingly, the fiscal year 2020 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill that advanced with full bipartisan consensus in the Senate Appropriations Committee in September 2019 proposed increasing energy programs at the Department of Energy by more than 11 percent year over year,88 demonstrating the appetite for ambitious congressional funding.
In FY 2016, the federal government spent $6.4 billion on clean energy R&D across 12 agencies89 and $15.6 billion on climate science and data collection.90 With the new 1.5-degree target, the Center for American Progress recommends that Congress triple federal funding for clean energy R&D and climate science across the 13 federal agencies that make up the U.S. Global Change Research Program over five years. Sustaining this higher funding level beyond that would amount to roughly $570 billion over 10 years between FYs 2021 and 2030. CAP also supports the recommendation of the National Academies of Sciences for $10 billion* in research and development in sequestration technologies and natural carbon sinks over 10 years.91
To be clear, innovation alone will not solve the climate crisis: Even the most miraculous new technologies will need policy support to spur deployment on fast enough timetables. But to meet the challenges of climate change adaptation, hard-to-decarbonize sectors, and net negative emissions by midcentury, the United States must fund more data collection, policy modeling, scientific analysis, and technology development.
Benchmark: Achieve at least 65 percent clean electricity generation by 2030 and 100 percent no later than 2050. This would cut economywide emissions by an estimated 13 percent of 2005 levels in 2030 and 27 percent in 2050.
This sector is already in the midst of a major transformation. In response to wildfire threats, cybersecurity risks, new technologies, and an aging fleet of nuclear reactors, the electricity sector will reinvent itself over the next 30 years. Federal policy will help determine how. Fossil fuels are already declining as a share of electricity generation. Since 2007, fossil fuels have dropped from 72 percent to 63 percent of electrical generation, on their way to 56 percent by 2050, according to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) projection of current policy. Even as fossil fuels decline overall, natural gas has significantly eroded the market share of coal. Since 2003, coal has dropped from 51 to 27 percent of electrical generation.95 Of all sectors of the economy, the electricity sector is most ready for a complete transition away from fossil fuels, both economically and politically.
This shows up in the jobs numbers. Within electricity generation, clean electricity jobs outnumber fossil fuel power plant jobs by a 3-to-1 margin.96 Jobs in wind and solar installation are the two fastest growing occupations in the whole economy.97 A Stanford study showed that if every conventional energy source were replaced with renewables, it would result in a net job growth of 2 million jobs in construction and operations.9899 Complementary policies will be needed to ensure that the new jobs in this sector are high-paying unionized jobs and that workers in fossil fuel industries are supported through pension guarantees, access to healthcare, and training for new jobs in their own communities.
Electricity costs generally impose a disproportionate financial burden on low-income communities.100 In a future where an increasing share of the economy’s energy use is electric, the affordability of electricity will be all the more important. Policies such as income-based subsidies, solar cooperatives, and energy efficiency programs intentionally designed to serve low-income residents can help alleviate this burden and support community wealth building.
In a 100 Percent Clean Future, electricity will be clean, reliable, and affordable. Everything that can run on electricity will, whether directly from the grid or a battery or indirectly through hydrogen created by electrolysis. Electricity generation will depend on renewable resources, balanced by a mix of demand response, energy storage, expanded transmission networks, natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration, or other potential innovations, such as load-following nuclear, as determined by market forces and state-by-state regulatory decisions. The electricity system will be unconstrained by fuel costs, have no single points of failure, and be built from the ground up to ensure cybersecurity.
This report recommends several federal policies to spur the transition to emissions-free sources for electricity generation, discussed below.
Benchmark: Reduce urban vehicle miles traveled 18 percent below baseline in 2030; reach 100 percent zero-emission sales for new light–duty vehicles no later than 2035; and reach 100 percent zero-emission sales for new medium– and heavy-duty vehicles no later than 2040. This would cut economywide emissions by an estimated 4 percent of 2005 levels in 2030 and 18 percent in 2050.
Because vehicles are long-lived assets, vehicle fleets take a long time to turn over and incorporate new technologies. The built environment is even slower to change; buildings built before the year 2000 will still represent roughly half of all buildings in the United States in 2030,111 for example, locking in patterns of land use sprawl and transportation demand.
The emissions impact of transportation varies greatly by mode, as is evident in Table 1. For example, rail transports 80 percent as much freight as trucks with only 8 percent as much carbon pollution. When it comes to the movement of people, long-distance travel by car or airplane represents only 3 percent of trips but more than 37 percent of emissions. Walking, bicycling, transit and commuter rail today provide nearly one-sixth of all local trips with hardly any emissions.
With 100 percent clean energy, people will still make these trips and receive these shipments as part of a healthy economy and a vibrant society but will be able to do so without producing emissions. There are a variety of strategies to accomplish that shift—primarily, vehicle electrification and smart growth—but not every strategy fits every context. Solutions need to be tailored to suit the diverse transportation needs underlying this pattern of emissions.
This section discusses policy options for the transportation sector in three categories: vehicle electrification, smart growth, and industry-specific policies.
There are more than 1 million zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) in the U.S. fleet already today, with another 1 million more expected to be added by 2021.112 However, even as production accelerates, it will take considerable time to replace the 270 million cars, trucks, motorcycles, and buses in the fleet. The average light-duty vehicle lasts for 12 years, and phasing out the last of the oldest models takes even longer. According to data from National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Electrification Futures study, even if every new car or SUV sold were an electric vehicle, it would take 10 years for the fleet to reach 70 percent electric and 15 years for the fleet to reach 90 percent electric.113 This transition needs to be completed around 2050, so there is no time to waste.
Replacing every vehicle in the country on an accelerated timetable will create jobs, which federal policy and early investment can help ensure will be domestic, unionized jobs drawn from a well-trained workforce. Even more jobs will be created in building out the nationwide network of charging infrastructure.114
This report recommends several federal policies to accelerate the deployment of zero-emission vehicles.
In most of the country, the only choice for getting around is to drive. But for the 97 percent of trips that are local (less than 40 miles),125 smart transportation and housing development can multiply the opportunities to access jobs, stores, and homes using transit, commuter rail, sidewalks, and protected bike lanes, with fewer and shorter trips by automobile. Smart growth is an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses; diverse housing and transportation options; development within existing neighborhoods; and community engagement.126 This offers freedom of choice in travel, reduced traffic congestion, healthier local communities, and significant greenhouse gas emission reductions.
Reducing vehicle miles traveled is an important emissions reduction strategy. Even in a scenario of complete electrification of vehicles by 2050, only 5 percent of the fleet will likely be electrified by 2030,127 which means that any reduction of vehicle miles traveled will translate directly into a reduction in petroleum consumption. Reducing the demand for energy from the transportation sector will also ease the burden of increasing electricity on the grid. Moreover, smart growth makes lasting changes in the built environment that cannot be undone with the stroke of a pen or a change in fuel prices.
According to a conservative estimate from the Transportation Research Board, smart growth can reduce vehicle miles traveled nationwide 8 percent by 2030 and 11 percent by 2050 below the business-as-usual baseline.128 Because these changes would happen primarily for local trips in urbanized areas, this reduction implies an 18 percent reduction in vehicle miles traveled in urbanized areas by 2030 and a 25 percent reduction by 2050.129 There is good reason to believe that even greater improvements may be possible.130
It is important to note that smart growth does not mean forcing every community into a single mold. Quite the opposite—smart growth means breaking the mold of zoning restrictions, parking minimums, and highway dependency so that regions can plan new investments based around people rather than motor vehicles. In small towns, it means restoring main streets to their role as commercial and social centers for the community. In the suburbs, it means connecting children to their schools with sidewalks and offering carpooling or rail service so that commuters can beat the traffic on the way to work. In cities, it means increasing in-fill development to keep housing prices down; building a network of protected bicycle lanes and pedestrian street crossings; revitalizing mixed-use zoning to make neighborhoods balanced; and world-class transit service.
Moreover, urban reinvestment that fails to increase the availability of affordable housing cannot be considered smart growth. Displacing residents from dense, transit-served neighborhoods to marginal, auto-dependent areas will increase emissions, 131 and disrupting communities or dislocating families in any way will exacerbate poverty and break social bonds. Policy at all levels must prioritize inclusive local economic development that supports and strengthens communities.
While smart growth is largely a function of state and local decision making, there are several important federal policies that can help to encourage smart growth, described below.
Certain transportation industries will not be fully decarbonized by vehicle electrification and smart growth strategies. These include aviation (3.1 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions); shipping (1.4 percent); construction (0.8 percent); military transportation (0.7 percent); freight rail (0.6 percent); and, to some degree, long-haul trucking (7.8 percent). These industries will require thoughtful industry-specific decarbonization policies. Further research and regulatory analysis is required to create comprehensive roadmaps for these transportation industries, and there are several federal policy levers that need to be considered.
Benchmark: The Center for American Progress recommends ensuring that all new buildings and appliance sales are electric and highly efficient by 2035. This would cut economywide emissions by an estimated 1 percent of 2005 levels in 2030 and 8 percent in 2050.
Much more can be done to reduce emissions in the buildings sector. Electricity is used for only 11 percent of space heating, 27 percent of water heating, 23 percent of cooking, and 85 percent of clothes drying. All other energy uses in the buildings sector, such as district heating for commercial buildings, together run about two-thirds on electricity. The remaining energy demand, along with associated greenhouse gas emissions, is supplied mainly by natural gas, propane, and home heating oil.147
Electric appliances have the potential to virtually eliminate these older, fossil-fuel based alternatives. This includes highly efficient heat pumps that provide air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter; programmable or even tankless electric water heaters; and induction cooktops. Full adoption of electric appliances would eliminate natural gas utility bills in residential and commercial buildings altogether, and each of these appliances has advantages over its fossil-fueled alternatives. However, transitioning the nation’s appliance stock will take time.
Energy efficiency is an important strategy to complement electrification because it provides additional emission reduction benefits until the sector is fully electrified, which will likely be after 2050, when the long-lived building stock fully turns over. Energy efficiency reduces costs for consumers and lessens the load growth for the electricity sector. Better building envelope insulation and proliferation of technologies such as LED light bulbs and efficient appliances are already helping this sector to realize its energy efficiency potential. Additional improvements to manage the timing of energy demand, such as through programmable thermostats and water heaters, can reduce the peak electricity demand even further and complement ever-higher penetration of intermittent renewable power sources on the grid. Cool, green, and white roofs have the potential to abate the heat island effect and reduce electricity demand in buildings.148149 Altogether, adoption of existing technologies could cut building emissions up to 50 percent if fully deployed.150 On the job creation side, energy efficiency is already the source of the largest job gains of all energy sectors and holds immense promise for further job creation with the implementation of ambitious policies to meet this potential.151 Implementing these high standards and retrofitting old buildings will make the entire housing stock not only more efficient but healthier and more affordable for all communities.
The buildings sector also holds the potential to support the carbon sequestration efforts discussed elsewhere in this paper by switching to sustainably sourced wood and other low-carbon building materials, thus spurring demand for climate-smart forestry practices.
Retrofitting all existing buildings and instituting new buildings codes also creates a once-in-a-generation opportunity to correct the legacy pollution within buildings. Replacing natural gas with electricity will reduce sources of carbon monoxide and formaldehyde, improving indoor air quality. 152 Financial support for retrofitting existing buildings will also support the remediation of lead paint and pipes, asbestos insulation, and other hazardous materials and promote adequate ventilation.153154
This report recommends several policies to promote energy efficiency and electrification in the buildings sector.
Benchmark: Reduce manufacturing sector emissions at least 15 percent by 2030 and set in motion a longer-term technology development and deployment agenda for deep decarbonization. This would cut economywide emissions by an estimated 3 percent of 2005 levels in 2030 and 11 percent in 2050.
More than 12.8 million Americans work in manufacturing, but this represents a shrinking share of overall U.S. employment.160 Increasing automation has allowed manufacturing firms to boost output without hiring more workers.161 And the offshoring of jobs to low-wage countries, such as China, has contributed significantly to the shrinking U.S. manufacturing base.162 Building a clean manufacturing sector is an opportunity to restore American manufacturing jobs, and policy must ensure these are good-paying, high-quality jobs.
Despite these trends, the federal government and states have invested relatively little in technology development and policy effort to reinvent the industrial sector. For example, while clean energy R&D budgets at the Department of Energy have hovered around $4 billion per year, the FY 2019 budget for the Advanced Manufacturing Office is just $320 million.163
Unlike other sectors, where comprehensive suites of competitive zero-emission technologies exist and need additional policy supports to accelerate deployment, there is a relatively limited set of existing technology solutions for manufacturing and the industrial sector more broadly. Electrification; energy efficiency; the use of alternative feedstocks such as biofuels and hydrogen; and carbon capture, utilization, and storage all hold promise, “but much greater diversity of processes and high levels of process integration make solutions more complex,” as the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory wrote in a study of electrification solutions for industry.164 This means that failing to robustly support the development and deployment of clean manufacturing alternatives would lead to offshoring—putting American workers out of a job; increasing countries’ dependence on Chinese-made technologies; and driving up global carbon pollution.
As the United States reinvents the manufacturing sector and its processes to cut greenhouse gas emissions, it must also cut other industrial pollution from existing plants and ensure that new sources of industrial pollution will not be concentrated in communities of color.
With the right actions now on trade and industrial policy, the United States manufacturing sector will employ millions of Americans in high-wage, high-skill jobs, making clean energy technologies for use at home and abroad by 2050. Energy efficiency and on-site renewable energy generation will help reduce the industrial sector’s demands on the electric grid, even as more equipment is electrified inside manufacturing plants. Goods invented and made in America will dominate the $23 trillion clean energy market, helping countries around the world achieve their own clean energy transitions165 without the cyberespionage fears that recently have accompanied Chinese company Huawei’s dominance of 5G mobile telecommunications infrastructure.166 Pipeline workers who today build and maintain oil and gas pipelines will be working on hydrogen and pipelines for the sequestration of captured carbon dioxide, making similarly high wages and continuing to enjoy union protections. Multinational corporations will have embraced circular production models, recycling and reusing materials to reduce strains on natural resources.
There are several policy strategies that could be implemented immediately to deliver longer-term emission reductions from the manufacturing sector.
Benchmark: Invest $120 billion by 2030 to drive emission reductions, carbon sequestration, and innovation in agriculture. This would cut economywide emissions by an estimated 2 percent of 2005 levels in 2030 and 4 percent in 2050.
Agriculture emits approximately 600 MMT CO2e per year, about one-tenth of total U.S. annual greenhouse gas emissions. Of this, 48 percent are nitrous oxide emissions from nitrogen fertilizer, and 42 percent comes from livestock methane emissions from manure management and enteric fermentation. The remaining 10 percent comes largely from on-farm fuel consumption from farm equipment together with upstream emissions from the supply of those fuels. On the other end of the value chain, another 130 MMT CO2e per year comes from the breakdown of these agricultural products and other wastes in landfills and wastewater treatment facilities. When waste decomposes in landfills, it produces biogas comprised of a mix of methane, carbon dioxide, and a small amount of nonmethane organic compounds.
These sectors also produce other types of pollutants with harmful impacts on human health, often disproportionately affecting low-income communities and communities of color. Farm workers are routinely exposed to high levels of pesticides, which can cause a range of health issues from skin irritations to serious and potentially deadly poisoning.177 Ammonia from nitrogen fertilizers and manure combine with other air pollutants to create fine particulates that cause heart and lung disease.178 Leakage from manure lagoons, poultry manure, and runoff from the spreading of untreated waste on land can pollute surface and groundwater sources. Excessive nitrogen and phosphorus from farm fields wash off into waterways and cause eutrophication of water bodies, which kills fish and other aquatic life.179
Much of this pollution can be managed more effectively. More efficient fertilizer application with today’s technologies could reduce emissions by up to 50 MMT CO2e per year180 and would improve air and water quality. Covering landfills and capturing methane from manure can reduce emissions by up to 22 MMT per year, avoiding manure runoff that has contributed to problems such as the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.181 Wastewater emissions can be reduced through aerobic wastewater treatment plants on an individual or centralized scale and installing anaerobic wastewater treatment plants with cogeneration.
Making these changes will require strong investment over the next decade. CAP recommends an investment of $120 billion over 10 years, doubling the amount of funding for agricultural conservation, research, and renewable energy in the 2018 farm bill.182 If the United States invests boldly in the next decade, it will put the country on a trajectory to significantly reduce emissions from agriculture; increase soil health and yields; and sequester carbon in farmland. By 2050, farmers will have a wide array of affordable solutions to vastly reduce the use of nitrogen fertilizers and improve soil health and yields. Emissions from manure and waste will be captured, converted into fuel, and used on-site or piped to industrial facilities for use in processes that are difficult to electrify. The need for fossil fuel use on farms will be dramatically reduced by farm equipment that runs on electricity, hydrogen, or advanced carbon-free fuels. Backed by strong federal investment in agricultural research and financial incentives, farmers will be able to actively manage the carbon content and health of their soils to boost productivity, reduce on-farm costs, and supply healthy food for global markets.
There are several federal policies that could support reduction of emissions in the agriculture and waste sectors. This section lays out policies targeted toward reduction of direct greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. The next section will discuss policies to increase soil health and carbon sequestration in cropland and rangeland.
Benchmark: Protect 30 percent of America’s lands and oceans and adopt climate-smart practices on an additional 100 million acres of farmland and rangeland by 2030. Deploy natural and technological solutions to sequester 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide by 2050. This would cut economywide emissions by an estimated 2 percent of 2005 levels in 2030 and 15 percent in 2050.
Even with aggressive emissions mitigation across sectors, increased sequestration will be necessary for offsetting emissions that are economically or technologically difficult to abate by midcentury and, more importantly, for achieving net negative emissions after 2050 to stabilize warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Sequestration encompasses natural sequestration from lands and oceans as well as technology-based sequestration through direct air capture or geological sequestration.
The good news is that the National Academies of Sciences estimates that there is current global capacity to safely and economically sequester an additional 9.1 to 10.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide globally per year through a combination of natural sequestration in lands and oceans and technological solutions.185 Of this amount, 1 gigaton per year of sequestration capacity lies in the United States.
Achieving this target is possible with a concerted effort to protect and restore natural lands and coastal ecosystems; restore the health of agricultural soils; and invest rapidly in research and development over the next decade to enable solutions, such as direct air capture and geological sequestration, to become available.
In the United States, lands and coastal areas sequester approximately 700 MMT CO2e per year on net, which is approximately one-tenth of total emissions, with forests accounting for nearly the entire amount.186 Unfortunately, several global models predict that lands could go from being a carbon sink to a carbon source, on net, due to climate-related factors such as more intense wildfires and deforestation as the global population increases to 10 billion by 2050. The United States is losing a football field worth of natural area every 30 seconds due to development. Parts of the arctic permafrost, which by some estimates hold double the amount of carbon currently in the earth’s atmosphere, are melting 70 years earlier than expected. Coastal ecosystems, which can capture and store significantly more carbon per acre than terrestrial forests, have been lost to coastal development and pollution, turning them from carbon sinks into sources.
It is imperative to implement policies to protect and expand the U.S. carbon sink. Of the 1 gigaton of additional annual sequestration that the National Academies of Sciences says is possible, half comes from forestry and better management of agricultural soils. To accelerate the conservation and restoration of forests, wetlands, and other natural systems that will play the most important role in absorbing and sequestering carbon, the United States should establish and pursue a national goal of protecting 30 percent of all lands and oceans by 2030. This national conservation goal—which is discussed in greater detail in CAP’s “How Much Nature Should America Keep” report—is critical to confronting both the climate and conservation crises that the country is facing.187
Additionally, farmers and ranchers have a long tradition of land stewardship that will be immensely valuable to the fight against climate change. Some farmers are already proving agricultural soil carbon sequestration practices to be some of the least costly and most swiftly deployed options for carbon sequestration currently available.
As in other sectors, targeted strategies beyond carbon pricing are necessary to speed up deployment of sequestration before 2030. This section outlines policy ideas that would ramp up greenhouse gas mitigation and sequestration through the protection and restoration of America’s lands and oceans and support for agricultural solutions.
In parallel to natural carbon sequestration solutions, negative emissions technologies will play a critical role in achieving net-zero emissions by midcentury and negative emissions after that. Half of the 1 gigaton of sequestration estimated by the National Academies of Sciences comes from negative emissions technologies, including bioenergy with carbon sequestration (BECCS) and direct air capture technology (DAC). Bringing these solutions online at scale will require heavy investment in research, development, and deployment.
BECCS uses plant biomass to produce electricity or liquid fuels, with sequestration of the CO2 emissions in geologic formations. Investment in R&D on BECCS should address questions around cost; availability of biomass given needs for food and fiber production and for biodiversity; and the feasibility of effectively capturing waste biomass.
DAC involves capturing CO2 from the ambient air through chemical processes and injecting it into a storage reservoir. While this technology theoretically has unlimited sequestration potential, it is currently cost-prohibitive and very energy intensive. There are currently 11 DAC operational plants around the world, the largest with a capacity to capture 4,000 tons of CO2 per year. According to a Rhodium Group analysis, the United States will need to build an estimated capacity of 9 MMT CO2/year by 2030 and between 560 to 1850 MMT CO2 annually by midcentury.203
DAC faces fewer political or environmental barriers that other potential sequestration options. However, high capital costs and the need for a low-carbon electricity source to power these facilities make them uncompetitive compared to other capture and sequestration options such as BECCS. Exactly how much DAC will be required will depend on the success of deploying other sequestration such as afforestation/reforestation, ocean blue carbon, and BECCS.
The federal government manages more than one-fourth of all lands and most of the ocean in the United States.205 While these lands should be carbon sinks, the federal government’s legacy coal, oil, and gas programs have turned these publicly owned lands and oceans into a net emitter of greenhouse gas pollution. From 2005 to 2014, production and consumption of fossil fuels extracted from federal lands and oceans accounted for nearly 24 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions annually—a total volume that exceeds the annual greenhouse gas pollution of all but four countries in the world.206, 207
In the same 2005 to 2014 study period, the U.S. Geological Survey found that the life cycle emissions from energy extracted from federal lands and waters contributed 1,332.1 MMT CO2e of greenhouse gas pollution each year, whereas the natural systems of these lands captured carbon at a rate of 343 MMT CO2e annually.208 In other words, energy extraction on the federal estate has been contributing roughly four times more greenhouse gas emissions than federal lands have been absorbing naturally. Increasingly severe wildfires, clear-cut logging, and other land use changes further worsen the picture.
This report recommends that Congress or the administration direct federal agencies to play a leading role in addressing the climate crisis by helping the country protect 30 percent of its lands and oceans by 2030 and by meeting a goal of net-zero emissions on public lands and waters by 2030. This net-zero by 2030 target would put the United States on a path to pollution-free public lands and waters by 2050.
To meet a net-zero goal for public lands by 2030, policymakers will need emissions reductions tools as well as to increase the capacity of public lands and waters to absorb pollution and supply clean power. Below are actions that the Interior Department and other federal natural resource managers can take to clean up the federal energy program and capitalize on the opportunities that public lands and waters can offer for clean energy production and pollution reduction:
The ambition of the 100 Percent Clean Future plan has important global implications. In the absence of proactive effort, the United States is on track by 2050 to burn through about 33 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget,219 though the U.S. constitutes only 4 percent of the world’s population. Reducing domestic emissions will significantly delay climate change.
But climate change is a global problem that requires global cooperation, and action at home by itself is not enough to stabilize global temperatures. Ambitious U.S. domestic action can serve as a strategic tool to catalyze international action. To translate new domestic climate policies into global influence, the United States must execute an international strategy to advance both global action and U.S. national interests, which include global emission reductions, U.S. economic competitiveness, and a stable international order. But after four years of the Trump administration’s climate policy malpractice, the United States will be digging itself out of a political credibility hole. It will take strong demonstrated domestic and international initiative to restore U.S. influence to drive a U.S. international climate strategy.
The Paris agreement still provides the right framework for coordinating international steps to strengthen national climate policies. Although it does not impose binding targets, Paris offers a foundation of nearly unanimous global commitment to continuous cooperation, an achievement that took years of diplomacy, creative policy development, and political leadership to secure, and which the United States should embrace again immediately. However, diplomatic efforts through Paris alone will not be enough to spur global emission cuts fast enough. The United States must use all of its diplomatic, trade, and financial influence with allies, rivals, international corporations, and institutions to drive global action. No other country has the same capacity and responsibility to lead as the United States.
This section of the paper recommends numerous diplomatic, trade, and financial policies as part of an international climate strategy to leverage the unique strengths of the United States and accomplish net-zero global greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050. This must be done in ways that reduce poverty and inequality and improve the health and well-being for people throughout the world, and as an interim step, must reach universal achievement of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
President Trump has done his best to sabotage global climate cooperation, most notably when he announced in 2017 his plan to withdraw from the Paris agreement.220 A new administration should immediately rejoin the Paris accord, a process that would take only one month. However, this is just step one. Restoring U.S. global influence on climate change through a set of targeted actions will be critical if the world is to have a chance in preventing the worst impacts of climate change.
There are several federal policies that would better leverage U.S. diplomatic strategy to further climate change goals.
It is incumbent upon the United States and China—as the world’s two largest economies and greenhouse gas emitters—to reengage each other and to lead internationally on climate.235 The two demonstrated indispensable leadership at Paris, but the changed nature of the relationship will also mean change in how the two countries approach climate. To compound the challenge, Trump’s abdication on climate action undermines U.S. political leverage in winning stronger climate action by China. Nevertheless, an updated approach to China on climate should focus on China’s domestic actions and how it addresses the climate impacts of its foreign activities, specifically in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
President Trump argues China is getting a free ride under the Paris agreement. Under its NDC, China’s CO2 emissions grow before peaking by 2030, though a recent study indicates China may be on track to peak emissions up to 10 years sooner.239 This progress reflects China’s wide-ranging policy changes and ambitious public investments, as demonstrated in its NDC goal, to boost the share of nonfossil energy to 20 percent of its energy mix and to slash the carbon intensity of its economy (CO2/unit of GDP), which has fallen more than fourfold since 1980.240 China’s long game investment in clean energy technology development at the same time President Trump disinvests in the same represents a critical economic competitiveness threat to the United States.241
A global solution to combating climate change requires strong U.S.-India cooperation on supporting India, the world’s fourth-largest emitter, in its sustainable development strategy. The good news is the two countries start from a strong foundation. The United States and India enjoyed a robust climate and clean energy partnership during the Obama administration, including the U.S.-India Partnership to Advance Clean Energy (PACE) program and President Obama and Prime Minister Modi’s direct work on the Paris agreement. The Trump administration has ceased climate engagement with India and prioritized oil and gas in bilateral energy work. A new administration should revive the U.S. climate and clean energy agenda with India and then expand it.
A new administration will have an opening to reset the international trade architecture as a vehicle to advance, rather than thwart, climate and worker priorities. This undertaking will require the United States to repair its standing and influence within the World Trade Organization (WTO); align partners to examine the WTO’s overall function given broader global trade developments; include a review of ways in which trade rules can get out of the way on Paris implementation; and affirmative ways trade can help address climate. If done correctly, trade policy can be a tool to convince trading partners to raise their climate change ambition, support U.S. commercial competitiveness, and protect U.S. workers. This would require removing existing provisions within multilateral and bilateral trade agreements that hinder governments from acting on climate within their own borders and using trade tools to spur further climate action internationally.
There are several federal policies that could leverage trade policy to further climate change action internationally.
The World Bank estimates the world will need to spend up to $90 trillion from 2015 to 2030 in order to replace ageing infrastructure in advanced economies and to accommodate higher growth and structural change in emerging market and developing countries.252 Public finance can play a catalyzing role, but private-sector finance will be the key to meet the scale of the finance challenge. The United States has a disproportionate influence over how private-sector finance will contribute, both through domestic regulations and influence over international financial institutions.
The emissions reduction estimates presented in this report are not the product of comprehensive, integrated modeling, but are instead drawn from a variety of estimates published in other contexts. In general, CAP sought the most reliable and sector-specific published reports to furnish these estimates. To avoid double counting, this report quantifies the impact only of the six sector-specific benchmarks discussed above. Substantial additional emission reductions are possible if more ambitious benchmarks can be supported and from additional policies, as described below. Taken together, these additional policies need to reduce economywide emissions by an estimated 5 percent of 2005 levels in 2030 and 7 percent in 2050.
There is not currently a satisfactory level of modeling of specific emissions reductions pathways in the context of the new goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius set by the IPCC. The emissions reduction estimates presented in this paper are not the product of comprehensive modeling but are instead drawn from a variety of estimates published in other contexts. The emission estimates are tied to the sectoral benchmarks and not to the discrete, marginal effects of each policy. A description of this methodology can be found in the appendix.
Modeling, research, and analysis of the cumulative impacts and disproportionate distribution of local pollution has also been inadequately funded to date and has not been incorporated well enough into greenhouse gas mitigation modeling. This deficiency unnecessarily adds to the challenge of incorporating environmental justice and equity into climate policy and hinders the effort to reduce pollution of all types in overburdened communities where pollution sources have historically been concentrated.
CAP calls for additional modeling and scientific analysis to validate emission reduction pathways in the United States under a variety of technological, economic, and political conditions, including analysis of the geographic and racial distributional impacts and the effects on various forms of pollution, so that policymakers can understand with increased confidence which suite of emissions reduction policies will work together to best accomplish a 100 Percent Clean Future.
To achieve the wide-ranging outcomes described above, a structural change within the White House will likely be necessary. The scope and urgency of the climate crisis, as well as the need to sustain a program of policy innovation for decades, will require a coordinated, holistic effort drawing on the expertise and resources of the entire federal government. Responsibilities for addressing the nation’s climate change challenge reach beyond the purview of the EPA, Department of Energy, Department of the Interior, and the USDA to include those government entities focused on the economy, public health, trade, national security, research, affordable housing, emergency response, finance, and intelligence. Effective and enduring solutions at the federal level will require sustained senior-level leadership, a unified vision, and constant coordination.
To achieve such an outcome, the president should create a new White House component called the National Climate Council that is run by a director with the title of assistant to the president for climate policy. The council should be comprised of cabinet-level leadership and tasked with directing, coordinating, and delivering measurable climate outcomes across the federal government. This council is modeled on the National Security and National Economic Councils, which are supported by specialized staff.
A new president will have no time to waste in setting the country on the path to achieving a 100 Percent Clean Future. Therefore, the first action of the National Climate Council should be to set the 100 percent clean target and appropriate benchmarks across the federal government against which progress will be measured. The new White House component will also need to work closely with the U.S. Congress to enact legislation, including to codify the 100 Percent Clean Future target, that will be needed to be successful in carrying out the policy recommendations listed throughout this report.
As with any major social change, it takes individuals demanding action and doing their part to address the problem. The Green New Deal, the Sunrise Movement, and the Global Climate Strikes show that activists are energized and forcing leaders to step up to the challenge. Not everyone is ready to be an activist, but many people want to get involved and make choices that can be a powerful part of the solution.
Whether choosing to purchase products with sustainable supply chains, investing in climate-conscious funds, making your home and appliances more energy efficient, buying an electric vehicle, or taking public transportation, lifestyle and consumption choices equip every American to become part of the climate solution today.
With a smart phone in everyone’s pocket, a simple game application should be developed for teachers, parents, and pretty much anyone interested in tracking what they can do to protect the planet. Each consumer choice or individual action could give you points until you reach your own net-zero status.
Unlike other recommendations in this report, this is an excellent opportunity for the private sector to jump in and offer a helpful tool to engage as much of society as is interested in driving the necessary change. When John F. Kennedy called for America to land on the moon, he asked science and education to join in the challenge, and it 255 captivated the imagination of millions. This is just a small opportunity to make the large number of Americans who care about climate change part of building a 100 Percent Clean Future.
Throughout this report there are many actions that individuals will need to take, including planting trees in their communities, making sure their next vehicle is an electric vehicle, making consumer choices that are more sustainable, and installing solar panels on their roofs. Companies and social networking sites can encourage these early adopters by offering ways to highlight and quantify the effects of proactive individual choices. Other businesses or retailers could offer incentives or discounts at particular point levels. The most important thing any individual can do is vote to put pressure on policymakers to act on climate change to stabilize global temperatures, but in between elections, this is one way to stay focused on simple solutions. No individual alone will significantly affect the climate, but like victory gardens in World War II, personal and community commitments help create a sense of common purpose to support a sustained program of policy change.
The science is clear. The costs of inaction are increasing daily. There is a growing consensus that the United States must act to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Moving to a 100 percent clean economy by 2050 will require strong leadership at the national level to transform the American economy, create millions of high-quality jobs, and clean up the pollution affecting disadvantaged communities today. If the next administration and Congress can repair the damage by the Trump administration and make climate change a top priority, success in getting the United States and the world on the right pathway is within reach. This will mean learning from state and local successes, building strong coalitions, and putting the needs of workers and historically disadvantaged communities at the center of the process.
America’s future is in the balance. If the country acts, it means a safer, healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous future for all Americans and their families. It means clean air and water for everyone and millions of high-wage jobs all across the country; developing innovative green technologies to export to the rest of the world; and building infrastructure that will power America and make communities healthier and safer. This is a future to embrace and welcome; it will improve people’s lives today and ensure prosperity for generations of Americans to come.
*Correction, November 4, 2019: This report has been corrected to accurately state the National Academies of Sciences’ proposed federal investments in negative emissions technologies.
John Podesta is the founder and a member of the Board of Directors for the Center for American Progress. Podesta served as counselor to President Barack Obama, where he was responsible for coordinating the administration’s climate policy and initiatives. In 2008, he served as co-chair of President Obama’s transition team. He was a member of the U.N. Secretary General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Podesta previously served as White House chief of staff to President William J. Clinton. He chaired Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president in 2016.
Christy Goldfuss is the senior vice president for Energy and Environment Policy at the Center for American Progress. Goldfuss was formerly the managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), where she helped develop and implement the Obama administration’s environmental and energy policies, including the Climate Action Plan. Prior to her work at the CEQ, Goldfuss was the deputy director of the National Park Service. She also previously created and directed the Public Lands Project at American Progress and worked on the legislative staff for the House Committee on Natural Resources.
Trevor Higgins is the director of Domestic Climate and Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress. Higgins previously worked for Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) as the Legislative Assistant responsible for energy, transportation, and climate change. Before that, he worked at the Department of Energy in the office of the Chief Financial Officer and at the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. Higgins earned a Master of Public Policy degree from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan.
Bidisha Bhattacharyya is the deputy director for Climate and Energy Policy at American Progress. Bhattacharyya previously worked on Capitol Hill as the senior energy and agriculture policy adviser to former Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and as energy and agriculture legislative assistant for Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN). She also ran the international impact investing practice at Village Capital and headed the product team for off-grid solar company Simpa Networks. Bhattacharyya received her master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University and a B.A. in economics from St. Olaf College.
Alan Yu is a senior fellow and the director of International Climate Policy at the Center for American Progress. Yu served from 2014 to 2018 as the U.S. Department of Energy’s director for Asian Affairs, and for 25 years before that as a foreign service officer at the U.S. Department of State, with postings in China, Japan, and Afghanistan. Yu received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a master’s in public policy from the University of California, Berkeley.
Kristina Costa is a McCourt Scholar at Georgetown University and was previously a senior fellow on the energy and environment team at the Center for American Progress. Prior to joining the Center, she served in the Obama Administration as adviser to the counselor to the president; as a policy advisor on the Hillary for America campaign; and as an energy and environment aide to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
The authors would like to thank contributing authors Rick Duke, Peter Hansel, Matt Lee Ashley, Kate Kelly, Sally Hardin, Ryan Richards, Bianca Majumder, and Guillermo Ortiz.
The authors would also like to thank the many internal and external reviewers who offered valuable ideas and feedback on this paper, including Marc Jarsulic, Andy Green, David Madland, Cathleen Kelly, Kelly Magsamen, Melanie Hart, Shayna Cherry, Patrick Dolan, Shilpa Phadke, Osub Ahmed, Rita Cliffton, Sara Chieffo, Pam Kiely, Todd Stern, Sue Biniaz, Pete Ogden, Jason Walsh, Brad Markell, Richard Kauffman, Eric Sundquist, Robert Bonnie, and Cecilia Martinez. These experts provided substantive and helpful comments, but the findings and conclusions represented in this report are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of these reviewers. The authors also thank Carl Chancellor, Will Beaudouin, and the CAP Art Team for their editing and artistic expertise.
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The Center for American Progress thanks the Linden Trust for Conservation, whose funding made this research and report possible. The findings and conclusions represented in this report are those of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Linden Trust for Conservation.
This appendix provides brief notes of explanation on the major calculations and assumptions made throughout the report.
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