Climate Compass Blog

Obama will need to act on his climate plan with a sense of urgency

In his State of the Union address, President Obama promised stronger action on climate change.  Today he followed up with a credible and comprehensive plan.  The real issue now is how vigorously he follows through.

From a policy perspective, the president’s plan lacks the sweep, cohesion and ambition that might be possible through new legislation.  With Congress unwilling to act, the president instead is offering an amalgam of actions across the federal government, relying on executive powers alone.

Taken together, the actions represent the broadest climate strategy put forward by any U.S. president, addressing the need to both cut carbon emissions and strengthen climate resilience.  While many of the specific items are relatively small-bore, and quite a few are actions already underway, the plan also includes new initiatives that can significantly advance the U.S. climate effort.

Conservatives debate a carbon tax

The discussion of a carbon tax continues. Conservatives met recently in Washington, D.C., to debate the mertis of a carbon taxt at an event hosted by the R Street Institute and the Heartland Institute, featuring representatives with opposing viewpoints from four conservative think tanks.

A 2013 C2ES brief found that a carbon tax was one way to put a price on carbon emissions, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and raise significant revenue for the federal government. A tax starting at about $16 per ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2014 and rising 4 percent over inflation per year would raise more than $1.1 trillion in the first 10 years, and more than $2.7 trillion over a 20-year period. This revenue could fund a wide range of things, including deficit reduction, a reduction in statutory corporate income tax rates from 35 percent to 28 percent (often cited as a goal by both conservatives and liberals), and research and development into low-emitting technology.  Importantly, such a carbon tax could also reduce CO2 emissions by 9.3 billion tons over 20 years.

New York takes leadership role in climate resilience

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $20 billion plan to safeguard New York City against a future Hurricane Sandy and other climate risks is the most ambitious effort yet by any U.S. city to prepare for the expected impacts of climate change.

The mayor last week announced “A Stronger, More Resilient New York,” a comprehensive plan to protect communities and critical infrastructure, and proposed significant changes to New York’s building codes for new construction and major renovations that will help buildings withstand severe weather and flooding. Its 250 recommendations include building new infrastructure (like installing armor stone shoreline protection in Coney Island), changing how services are  provided (like encouraging redundant internet infrastructure), and establishing standardized citywide communication protocols for use during disruptions.

Redrawing the energy-climate map

I had the privilege of providing input to the new International Energy Agency (IEA) report, Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map.  I am grateful that the IEA produced this special report, which endeavors to keep open the option of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by keeping the concentration of greenhouse gases below 450 parts per million (CO2-equivalent).

To many, the traditional 450 scenario published each year in IEA’s World Energy Outlook (WEO) appeared aspirational rather than practical, leaving influencers and policymakers with few realistic options. The modified 450 scenario, “4-for-2 ?C,” addresses this concern by recommending specific, actionable policies.

China and U.S. agree to cooperate to reduce powerful greenhouse gas

The informal summit between the presidents of China and the United States last week yielded one very one important climate-related agreement.  After years of opposing international efforts to restrict hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs - a potent family of greenhouse gases), China has now agreed to cooperate with the United States and most other nations in moving forward to phase down the use of these chemicals under the Montreal Protocol. 

The Montreal Protocol is the international treaty agreed to in 1987 that restricts the production and use of ozone-depleting substances with the goal of restoring the earth’s protective ozone layer. Widely hailed as the most successful international environmental treaty, it has been ratified by all 197 states. While not its primary objective, the treaty has also played an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and now appears on track to play an even larger role.