Meeting the Challenge of Climate Change
Smart Climate Policy Secures a Cleaner, Healthier Future for All
Acting on climate is no longer just about defending against loss, it’s about scoring gains for our economy and communities. Many climate solutions offer the opportunity for more jobs, more consumer choice, lower costs, cleaner air and water, better soil quality and better health for everyone. We can meet the growing and changing needs of Americans while ensuring a prosperous, equitable, clean and secure energy future.
The Threat is Real, the Solutions are Now
The threat posed by the climate challenge is undeniable. A 2019 study by EPA scientists esitimated that by 2090, carbon emissions in a 4.5°C warming scenario could cost the US economy $224 billion more annually, and result in 9,300 more heat-related deaths annually than if warming were limited to 2.5°C. The solutions to climate change—increasing energy efficiency, investing in renewable energy, appropriately pricing carbon, modernizing the grid, transitioning to electric vehicles and increasing the use of nature-based solutions— also offer more jobs, more consumer choice, lower costs, cleaner air and water, better soil quality and better health for everyone.
The U.S. economy is rapidly transforming. In the next decade we will reinvent infrastructure, business models and services in many sectors, including energy, transportation, agriculture, and working lands. We must mobilize smart policies and practices so that all Americans benefit equitably, particularly frontline communities that have been disproportionately burdened and left out of the decision-making process.
Benefits of a Low-Carbon Future
A low-carbon future and its benefits are already becoming a reality:
- Nearly 2.4 million Americans are employed in energy efficiency, and over half a million are employed in wind and solar. Employment in this sector was hit hard by the COVID pandemic and has fallen 12%.
- The cost of renewable energy is reaching all-time lows. Over the past decade, the cost of solar modules has dropped 92% over the last decade, wind turbines are down nearly 50%, and lithium-ion battery prices have fallen 87%.
- Energy efficiency has led to a decoupling of economic growth and energy use. Over the past 10 years, the U.S. gross domestic product reached record highs, yet electricity sales in the United States remained relatively flat.
- America’s largest automakers have made strong commitments to EV production. General Motors has committed to 30 different vehicles on the market by 2025, and Ford is spending $11.5 billion on EV development by 2022.
The solutions to climate change are no mystery. We know what causes it, and we know what to do about it. We are encouraged by a growing bipartisan consensus around the need to find workable and effective solutions—evidenced by the creation of the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus in October 2019, following in the footsteps of the similar effort in the House. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) remains committed to promoting solutions:
Supporting Carbon Pricing
TNC believes an economy-wide price on carbon is among the most effective ways to reduce the carbon pollution causing climate change. Several bipartisan carbon pricing bills were introduced in the 116th Congress, such as the MARKET CHOICE Act. These bills offer model design elements to inform future legislation, including how to set ambitious, enforceable targets, where to direct revenues, how to mitigate disproportionate impacts to vulnerable communities, and how to coordinate with complementary state and federal policies. TNC is a member of the CEO Climate Dialogue, a coalition of leading companies and NGOs urging Congress to pass market-based climate change legislation.
Driving Innovation and Research
The omnibus spending package enacted at the end of 2020 included an array of bills that will advance research, development and deployment of clean energy and other emissions-reducing technologies and drive innovation and growth. Key provisions in the bill included
- reauthorization and increased funding for ARPA-E, which advances energy technologies not ready for private investment;
- multiple provisions pushing energy efficiency;
- investments in carbon capture, utilization and storage and direct air capture;
- support for battery storage and other grid modernization initiatives;
- improvements in manufacturing and industrial processes that reduce emissions; and
- policies to support the development of advanced nuclear technologies.
Phasing Out Long-Lived Greenhouse Gases
Phasing out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) is one of the most important near-term opportunities to reduce emissions of a potent greenhouse gas. The American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, supported by a wide array of interests and enacted as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, directs the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce HFC’s by 85 percent over 15 years. The Administration should move quickly to implement this phasedown and meet the U.S. commitments under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. The Administration should also submit the Kigali amendment to the Senate for ratification.
70% of voters think climate change is a very or somewhat serious problem for their local area; 65% believe that passing comprehensive legislation should be a top priority for Congress and the president in 2021.
Electric Grid Transformation
Technologies such as utility scale renewable generation, distributed generation, energy storage, electric vehicles and microgrids can make the power system cleaner and more reliable and give consumers more control over their energy bills. Congress should provide funding and facilitation to help modernize the grid and accelerate electrification across the entire transportation sector. As renewable energy is added to the grid, incentivizing development on abandoned minelands and brownfields and smarter siting on federal lands will ensure we meet added demand in a way that benefits both nature and people.
Clean Energy Tax Incentives
Tax policy is vital tool for accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy. TNC supports renewal and longer-term extension of existing tax credits for renewable energy production, carbon capture, clean manufacturing technologies, energy storage and electric vehicle purchases. The added flexibility of a direct pay mechanism can support commercialization of much needed technologies.
Advancing Natural Climate Solutions
Natural and working lands already reduce total US emissions by around 12 percent annually, while keeping people and nature healthier. These reductions could be tripled with appropriate protection, reforestation and management practices. Congress could accelerate the uptake of these solutions by supporting solutions in the Growing Climate Solutions Act, the Rural Forest Markets Act, the REPLANT Act, and the recommendations of the newly formed Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance. Improving information on the land sector greenhouse gas inventory would further strengthen these efforts. A new tax credit for sequestering carbon in forests, agricultural lands, and coastal ecosystems would unlock the potential for these lands to be part of the climate solution.
The Biden administration should make deployment of natural climate solutions a top priority by adopting policies and incentives and making investments that enable public land managers, private landowners, forest producers, and farmers to implement practices to maximize carbon sequestration. This includes adopting existing carbon management principles on public lands, de-risking private investment to enable private capital to support broader deployment of these solutions, and enhancing internal technical capacity and technical assistance. Improving information on the land sector greenhouse gas inventory would further strengthen these efforts.