The POW Dispatch: Our Take On Climate News, April 23, 2021
Header Image: Max Lowe
Welcome to a special Climate Summit edition of the POW Dispatch. The United States kicked off its Leaders Summit on Climate on Earth Day with the unveiling of its new Nationally Determined Contribution pertaining to the Paris agreement. With the new goal of reducing the country’s emissions by 50 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2030, the United States has once again assumed a leadership role in the world’s battle against climate change. It will use this position to help other countries in setting their own goals and bringing the world together in the cause of a common goal.
In this week’s Dispatch, we’re focusing on several different components tied to the implementation of the new NDC and key takeaways from the Leaders Summit on Climate. We highlight the NDC itself and the steps required to hitting it, as well as the role that electric vehicles, the transition to renewables, financial requirements and just workforce transitions will play in achieving a 50 percent cut in emissions by 2030. Get your thinking caps ready and drop into this week’s Dispatch.
“We are talking about trains. We are talking about ships. We are talking about an opportunity to advance our transportation sector by investing in electric vehicles and battery manufacturing here in the United States, both for vehicles, but also for battery storage opportunities. We’re talking about building a new resilient grid.” — Gina McCarthy, White House national climate advisor
National Climate Advisor (and friend of POW) Gina McCarthy is talking about a complete revamp of the systems that power America day-in and day-out. This is what happens when we listen to science; policy begins to move in the right direction. Scientific data drove the creation of the Paris agreement in order to keep global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius to avoid widespread catastrophic heat waves, extreme weather and rising sea levels. The science revealed that emissions needed to drop rapidly, beginning immediately (yesterday, really) and reach net-zero by 2050. By listening to the science, policymakers can now make moves to reshape our systems to meet those goals.
It won’t be an easy journey, of course. Some have even said it’s an impossible task, but we already have the tools necessary to make it happen. Anyone who’s stared at a towering mountain peak wondering if it’s even worth the effort to scramble to the top can relate. But after all the scratching, clawing, sweat, burning quads and moments of doubt, it’s always worth it for that view from the top.
The new emissions target is the United States’ most recent Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), the country’s public commitment to combat climate change as outlined in the Paris agreement (more on that, here). Reducing the country’s emissions by 50 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2030 represents an important step in the right direction—think of it as the first mile of a thru-hike. The NDC isn’t a magical, all-encompassing solution, but it’s still an important step toward the hard and dedicated work necessary toward achieving carbon neutrality. The new target solidifies the United States’ commitment to its climate responsibilities, as the world’s largest economy truly rejoins the Paris agreement. As McCarthy noted, the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan would pivot the American economy in the direction of one reliant on renewable energy as opposed to fossil fuels.
There are, of course, important details associated with this systematic transformation. These policies centering around emissions reductions in order to meet the goals of the NDC need to prioritize vulnerable, marginalized and underserved communities—the people most at-risk from the effect of climate change. These communities need to have a place at the table as policies are formed. And these systemic shifts must support a just transition for people whose livelihoods currently depend on fossil fuels. Meeting the NDC has the potential for a ton of job creation, but that isn’t quite guaranteed; careful consideration must be taken to ensure the protection of workers, their families and livelihoods.
Continue to follow along as we bring you updates surrounding the steps America takes to hit its newly announced NDC.
“We’ve delayed so long, it’s really urgent that we move now, and it’s got to be action on multiple fronts.” – Jane Lubchenco, deputy director for climate and the environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
The details surrounding how the United States plans to meet its newly announced NDC of a 50 percent emissions reduction (from 2005 levels) by 2030 are still a bit murky. Like when you and your buddies strike up the idea to ski a classic backcountry couloir miles into the backcountry. There’s still a ton of planning, strategy and hard work needed before you embark on your adventure and reach your goal.
While the steps to achieve the NDC aren’t 100 percent clear, yet, the recently announced American Jobs Plan helps paint a picture of what the steps could look like. The eight-year package centers on a swift transformation of the transportation and energy sectors, the two biggest greenhouse gas emissions culprits in the country. It calls for a Clean Electricity Standard, large investments in climate change and electric vehicle technology, the extension of clean energy tax credits and the modernization of the electric grid, among many other policies. On top of that, it elevates environmental justice for those most at risk from the effects of climate change and supports a just transition of workers whose livelihoods will be upended by the shift to renewables.
Achieving these systemic changes will be a difficult task, but surely worth the effort. It’s akin to a long backpacking journey, hoofing it over uneven terrain with seemingly the weight of the world on your back. But when you drop the pack at your campsite and take it all in, it’s always worth it. Policies like those outlined in the American Jobs Plan will put into motion the systemic changes needed to really put a dent in the impacts of climate change.
The New York Times
“Cutting emissions from transportation, which accounts for nearly one-third of America’s greenhouse gas emissions, will be a difficult, painstaking task. President Biden has set a goal of bringing the nation’s emissions down to net zero by 2050. Doing so would likely require replacing virtually all gasoline-powered cars and trucks with cleaner electric vehicles charged largely by low-carbon power sources such as solar, wind or nuclear plants.” – The New York Times
Historically, gas guzzlers have been the poster children of the transportation sector. Just look to the outdoors for evidence. Gaze around the parking lot at any trailhead and you’re sure to see a host of 4Runners, Wranglers and Ram pickups holding court. There’s no shame in that, of course, as these gas-powered automobiles are part of a system reliant on carbon. We all have carbon footprints, but that shouldn’t stop us from advocating to change the system. About one-third of the United States’ emissions come from the transportation sector. In order to wipe out emissions from America’s highways, streets and backroads, POW has been advocating for viable solutions ranging from fuel efficiency, fuel economy standards and public transportation to electric vehicle availability, infrastructure and credit reform. Widespread adoption of electric vehicles (affordable ones at that!) is the key to ensuring we can get to the lift lines, trailheads and crags we love in a carbon-neutral fashion. Wiping out emissions from our roads (remember, one-third of the country’s total emissions can be traced to transportation) can put a huge dent in America’s newly announced emissions reduction goal.
The American Jobs Plan allocates significant funds ($174 billion big ones, to be exact) toward electric vehicles and we’re hopeful the initial proposals will make it to the final infrastructure bill. The American Jobs Plan seeks to help auto manufacturers jumpstart domestic supply chains, renovate factories and put Americans to working making batteries and electric vehicles. Additionally, it would provide tax incentives for purchasing American-made electric vehicles and provide incentives for state and local governments and private companies to build a network of 500,000 electric vehicle chargers across the country by 2030. After all, EVs are ineffective if there aren’t service stations to recharge at (hello, updated grid—more on that further down). Imagine all of the gas stations strewn about the highway you see on your road trips to the desert, mountains or rivers replaced by charging stations. This package could help that come to fruition.
While the American Jobs Plan certainly puts a focus on electric vehicles, the final infrastructure plan will undoubtedly evolve in the coming months. We’ll keep you in the loop surrounding all of the developments.
“If we’re really going to do what Biden wants to do and take these dramatic steps to get down to a zero emission power sector by 2035, you’re going to have to move that clean power where it’s needed.” – Rick Newman, senior columnist for Yahoo! Finance
We have renewable energy generation figured out; generating large amounts of renewable energy at a low cost is already happening. However, we still haven’t cracked the code on how to get that energy from its generation source to where it needs to go to support the people and services that need it.
The implementation of things like electric vehicles will only drive up electricity demand in the coming years. We can’t just advocate for electric vehicle adoption without rethinking our energy grid at the same time. It’s old, outdated and needs investment. Remember when you finally gave up that old, beat up hardtail with the chipped paint, broken gear shifts and wobbly wheel for the brand-new full suspension mountain bike? Aren’t you happy with your new investment?
Luckily, when it comes to grid updates, we have the tools we need to make adjustments to the existing grid that can massively improve efficiency. One example of a way to update the grid fairly quickly is through Grid Enhancing Technologies (GET), which have already been put into place in states like Kansas and Oklahoma. GETs are hardware or software that increases the capacity, efficiency and/or reliability of transmission facilities. GET adoption can deliver twice the renewable energy capacity and save hundreds of millions of dollars in production cost, all while mitigating millions of tons of annual CO2 emissions and generating both long and short-term jobs. The topic gets wonky, but luckily, our executive director, Mario Molina, and Alliance Member, Amie Engerbretson, went into full detail on this topic last week. Check out their conversation, here.
World Economic Forum
“If this complex transition is not managed in a just and equitable way, it could create unnecessary hardship for affected workers and their communities, and even lead to pushback that could slow the implementation of crucial climate policies.” – Leah Lazer, research analyst for the International Climate team and Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy
Let’s echo Bob Dylan here by saying, “The times, they are a changin’.” While that song came out nearly 60 years ago, the sentiment remains the same. The implementation of policies supporting America’s new NDC (a 50 percent reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2030) will create millions of green energy jobs. But, that won’t be an easy transition. Former coal workers in West Virginia can’t simply move to Nevada and take jobs in solar. It’s estimated that 6 million jobs tied to coal, petroleum and other fossil fuels could vanish by 2030, and the newly created green energy jobs will require different skill sets from workers or simply be in different locations.
Proactive planning is necessary to ensure this just and equitable transition. This includes consistent communication with affected parties, infrastructure investments to encourage transportation and training and retirement support for the workforce. Workers, employers, unions and government agencies with a stake in these industries should be given the chance to advocate for their own interest, have their voices heard and participate in the planning process. Entire communities dependent on revenue from fossil fuels need to be taken into consideration. When a major local industry shutters, it affects every business in a community. Strategies to replace lost local tax revenue from fossil fuel companies and economic planning processes for these local communities is imperative.
And while renewable energy is the most viable solution to curbing climate change, it’s not an equitable industry by default. Solar and wind farms require large amounts of resources and land, making it crucial that the land is acquired with respect to the rights of vulnerable people in lower income or indigenous communities. The creation of quality, accessible jobs should also be required, as large renewable developments are generally built in areas with relatively low-skilled workforces. Proactive community engagement efforts, local infrastructure plans and requirements to engage with local businesses while developing these energy sources can help ensure these communities thrive.
And perhaps the Outdoor Recreation Economy can be part of this just transition. Setting up new recreation areas and pairing seasonal jobs with new green energy ones in communities formerly dependent on the fossil fuel industry can ignite new revenue streams and provide a diverse set of employment opportunities. The bottom line is there’s so much more involved in the transition to renewables than the simple switch from gasoline to solar or wind; there are so many stakeholders who stand to be hurt or benefit from the pivot. Let’s make sure they benefit, eh?
“President Biden has outlined an ambitious strategy to transition the United States to net-zero emissions and has mobilized the entire government to achieve it. At Treasury, our goal is to take this ‘whole-of-government’ approach and turn it into a ‘whole-of-economy’ approach.” – Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen
The shift in the American economy to address climate change is monumental. Like Alex Honnold’s free solo of El Capitan or Bill Briggs ski descent of the Grand Teton, it’ll represent a paradigm shift in how America allocates its financial resources.
POW’s Theory of Change highlights financial instruments, specifically, as a way to address climate change directly and the energy investments tied into the American Jobs Plan reflect that. Similar to how POW depends on the entirety of the Outdoor State to achieve its goal of protecting our outdoor playgrounds from climate change, meeting America’s new NDC goal will take a “whole economy” and “whole government” approach. No one strategy is a silver bullet to achieve these goals, but the seamless fit of hundreds of puzzle pieces is what’s required. These pieces include a Clean Electricity Standard aimed at carbon-free electricity generation by 2035, the end of tax subsidies for fossil fuels, grants and incentives for electric vehicles and pressure on institutions like the Federal Reserve to identify assets at risk due to climate change.
Local Climate News
While national climate topics often dominate the news cycle, there’s still plenty going on surrounding renewables, electrified transit, public lands and more in states and local communities across the nation. In the absence of federal leadership over the past four years, a lot of work has been done on the local level to strive toward the goals of the Paris agreement. The newly announced NDC helps make up for lost time on the part of the federal government and, as they have been for years, states and local communities will play a huge role in achieving those goals. Take a look at what’s going on locally via the news blurbs below.
Author: Donny O'Neill
Donny grew up in the woods of rural Northwestern Connecticut, where he spent much of his time tromping through the deep New England forest that made up his backyard. He first clicked into a pair of skis at the age of 3 and has spent each and every winter since exploring the world via a […]