Climate Compass Blog

How the US can meet its climate pledge

The following was published in March 2016 on the EcoWomen blog. View the original post here.

I let out a cheer when Leonardo DiCaprio mentioned climate change during his Oscars acceptance speech. But concern about climate extends far beyond the red carpet.

Religious leaders, military officials, mayors, governors, business executives, and leaders of the world’s nations are all speaking about the need to address the greenhouse gas emissions that threaten our environment and economies.

Last December, world leaders reached a landmark climate agreement at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 21) that commits all countries to contribute their best efforts and establishes a system to hold them accountable. COP 21’s Paris Agreement also sent a signal to the world to ramp up investment in a clean energy and clean transportation future.

The U.S. committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 level by 2025. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Clean Power Plan was touted as a key policy tool to help reach that goal. However, with the recent surprise stay of the rule by U.S. Supreme Court, can the U.S. still meet its climate pledge? Simply put, yes.

Decoupling economic growth from carbon emissions

Source: International Energy Agency

For the second year in a row, the global economy grew and global carbon dioxide emissions did not.

Preliminary data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicate that energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (from burning fossil fuels for electricity, transportation, industry, space heating and so on) remained unchanged from the previous two years at around 32.1 billion metric tons. Meanwhile, economic growth increased by more than 3 percent for the second consecutive year.

A couple years of data doesn’t necessarily translate into a trend. And continued ambition in the decades ahead - like we saw with the landmark Paris Agreement in December 2015 - will be required before we can announce that we have truly turned the corner on reducing CO2 emissions.

But the IEA noted that 90 percent of new electric generation in 2015 came from renewables. Yes, 90 percent. And this apparent decoupling – after decades of energy-related CO2 emissions moving in lockstep with economic growth -- is a positive sign that low-carbon policies may finally be gaining traction in many parts of the world.

The change is due to policies and market forces affecting two factors – energy intensity and fuel mix – both in China and in the developed economies.

Kick start spring with 5 green ideas

Spring is the season of renewal, making it the perfect time to re-evaluate and refresh how we go about living and working sustainably on the planet. Turn over a new leaf this spring by trying any or all of the following five suggestions for treading more lightly on the earth.

  1. Avoid waste: What we buy and discard creates tons of waste and greenhouse gas emissions. The average American creates 4 pounds of trash daily. Keep would-be-waste to a minimum by making smart choices before you consume. Here are three tips: BYORM (bring your own reusable mug) to your favorite drink shop; carry reusable bags when shopping; or use Pyrex, Tupperware or reusable snack bags for leftovers after dining out.
  2. Mix up your commute: Are you one of the millions of Americans who drive nearly 30 miles a day – more often than not alone? Try a new way to get where you’re going. Use bike shares, take public transportation, join a carpool or try an uberPOOL.
  3. Grow your curb appeal: With spring around the corner, it is a fine time to add native trees and other plants to your yard or community garden. This greenery will capture carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Once established, native plants are low-maintenance and survive well on available water. They also enhance the look of your home or community. For more tips, check this guide to native plant gardening.

We need states to show clean energy leadership

Smart policy often comes from the states, and many states have shown and are expected to continue to show leadership in addressing climate change and promoting clean energy.

The Clean Power Plan stimulated discussions across the country, sometimes for the first time, among state energy and environment department officials, regulators, and energy companies about ways to reduce emissions. And we see momentum to keep those and other conversations going.

Consider some of the many ways states are leading:

Better EV decisions through data

February is dragging on for an extra day this year, delaying my favorite spring ritual: the opening day of baseball season. The extra day of eager contemplation has me combining a seasonal love of baseball with my year-round affection for electric vehicles (EVs). Bear with me here.

Baseball is an intensely data-driven sport. Whereas most sports are still using relatively simple stats like basketball’s “double double,” where a player reaches double digits in two statistical categories, baseball analysts predict teams’ expected wins by calculating Pythagorean scoring averages. Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane fielded a winning team by using data to find players’ overlooked value, inspiring a famous book and cunningly selling Brad Pitt as a reasonable look-alike in the process.

Baseball shows the importance of data availability and statistical inferences in decision-making. Similarly, access to the best statistics may help transportation managers determine the best strategies to promote adoption of EVs, a market-ready transportation alternative that can reduce harmful emissions that contribute to climate change. The difficulty has been that data resources have been scattered, often difficult to locate and even more difficult to compile into a usable form. This is where a new data tool may be able to offer meaningful insights into EV markets.