New hope on climate – Here’s what we know

On Saturday, as we learned the election outcome, I joined countless others in celebrating the new opportunities before us to accelerate U.S. climate action. My bottom line: There is no time to waste.

In the coming weeks, as the post-election landscape takes shape, C2ES will have more to say about the specific opportunities we see to work toward ambitious, durable, bipartisan climate solutions. Right now, I’d like to reflect on some of the fundamental realities that I believe will shape our path forward – seven things “we know” coming out of this election.

A strong, growing majority of Americans support climate action. Heading into the election, climate change was the #3 worry on voter’s minds, trailing only the economy and the pandemic. Exit polling showed that two-thirds of voters saw climate change as a serious problem. And a Yale-led survey showed that 82 percent of voters supported the goal of 100% clean energy. The American people understand that we face a grave problem, and they support a wide array of policy solutions.

Science is back. Just days ago, the Trump administration continued dismantling our scientific apparatus for understanding climate change and its impact on Americans, sidelining the career scientists responsible for producing our next National Climate Assessment. With the election of Joe Biden, we can be confident that science will again be supported, respected and at center of policymaking. The days of “I don’t think science knows” are behind us.

We’re back in Paris. The formal U.S. exit from the Paris Agreement the day after the election was a shameful retreat from global leadership and our responsibility to future generations. President-elect Biden has made clear that rejoining the agreement will be one of his first acts in office. In a blog last week, Elliot Diringer and Dan Bodansky outlined the significance of the United States’ return, but also the challenges of developing a new U.S. contribution that is both ambitious and credible.

Companies are committed. One of the untold stories of this year is how, even in the midst of the pandemic and economic turmoil, more and more leading companies continued to take on ambitious net zero goals. Companies accept the science. They’re hearing from their investors, customers and employees. They see both the risks of inaction and the opportunities of a decarbonizing economy. Companies also know that to keep their commitments they need strong enabling policies, and have a critical role to play in delivering them.

Republican support on climate change is growing. With the strong prospect of a continued Republican majority in the Senate, major climate legislation will hinge, in part, on their readiness to act. Famed GOP pollster Frank Lutz has warned the party that continued resistance to climate action risks turning off younger voters; indeed, a cadre of young conservatives is taking up the cause. Signs in the current Congress that Republican lawmakers are opening up to climate solutions include a recent statement by Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, that carbon pricing should be “on the table.” By dint of temperament and experience, President-elect Joe Biden is especially well equipped to foster a possible return to bipartisanship.

Our solutions must be just. There is no lasting climate solution without climate justice, and no climate justice without social justice. By reducing future climate impacts, stronger policies will inherently benefit the marginalized communities suffering a disproportionate share. But our climate policies must go further, ensuring that our solutions do not come at the expense of low-income families and those burdened by structural inequities, as well as a just transition for workers and communities historically dependent on fossil fuels.

Every day, the urgency grows. Beyond the dire expert assessments of the IPCC and the National Climate Assessment, the accelerating pace of record wildfires, temperatures, hurricanes, flooding and other extreme weather provides visual and visceral evidence of the crisis we face. Again, there is no time to waste.

That’s what we know. Here’s what we need: An effective long-term climate policy ambitious enough to set in motion the investments and innovation needed to put us on the path to carbon neutrality. It must be durable to survive political transitions and provide the certainty needed for long-term investment by capital markets and business. And that means it should be bipartisan, with all contributing to, and benefitting from, the solutions.

At C2ES, we look forward to working with our incoming president and Congress, and with the members of our Business Environmental Leadership Council, to seize the new opportunities upon us to achieve lasting climate solutions.