Policy Moves, Front-Line Action Could Make 2019 a ‘Breakthrough Year’ for Climate Solutions
After a bruising year of climate change news, including alarming reports of far worse in the future and an incomplete result at the United Nations climate conference in Katowice, Poland, 2019 is dawning as something improbable: A year of hope for effective climate action.
The dire reports from climate scientists won’t stop anytime soon. But news stories over the last week are pointing to a series of factors—from falling renewable energy costs, to grassroot mobilization, to national and international leadership—that could make the next 12 months a turning point in the effort to get climate change under control.
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“The omens from 2018 were not good,” The Guardian concedes. “Fortunately, however, 2019 may indeed be a breakthrough year. Public opinion is mobilizing around the world and politicians and businesses are paying attention. There will be a series of high-profile events that will engage the public and governments, and may provide a better way forward than was managed last year.”
Environment correspondent Fiona Harvey cites the upcoming climate summit hosted by UN Secretary General António Guterres as a moment when national leaders “will be put on the spot, and will come under very public pressure as coalitions of civil society groups seek to put their case.” Meanwhile, this summer’s edition of the annual One World Summit convened by French President Emmanuel Macron will aim to push business and investors into a leading role.
Harvey says the UN summit will highlight “the role of women, who are among the most vulnerable to climate change,” as well as young people, “who will have to live with the consequences of their elders’ mistakes in a warming world.” But she sees the greatest potential in the momentum civil society campaigns have taken away from 2018.
“Public opinion around the world is that our leaders, governments, and businesses should be doing more on this vital issue,” she writes. “This can be seen in some unexpected ways, such as the rise of veganism and flexitarian eating, as people seek to reduce their impact on the climate from eating meat. Through well-publicized and effective movements and actions, more and more people are refusing silently to acquiesce in ignoring the dangers to the climate.”
The Washington Post is out with a series of contributions from 11 guest authors, each laying out a specific policy idea to drive progress on climate. “Radical change from one state, or even the whole United States, won’t address climate change on its own, but taking these actions could help start the planet down a path toward a better future,” the Post states.
In the 11 segments:
• Peter Buckland, chair of the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors, and Brandi Robinson, chair of the Ferguson Township Climate Action Committee, describe the resolution their local municipality in Pennsylvania adopted in June 2017 to hit carbon neutrality by 2050.
• Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, urges readers to curb climate-busting hydrofluorocarbon coolants by only buying super-efficient air conditioners and encouraging state legislators to mandate rapid HFC reductions.
• Constantin Samaras, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, calls for incentives and other encouragements for electric vehicle adoption.
• Steve Clemmer, director of energy research and analysis at the Union of Concerned Scientists, explains his organization’s recent recommendation that the U.S. keep safely operating nuclear plants running until they can be replaced with other low-carbon technologies.
• Emiko Atherton, director of Smart Growth America’s National Complete Streets Coalition, presents a “suite of simple tools” that would make it easier for people to live without cars. “As long as we design our streets only for cars, we are designing a high-carbon future,” she writes. “Walking or biking could substitute for 41% of short car trips, saving nearly 5% of carbon dioxide emissions from car travel. So why don’t we walk and bike more? We certainly want to.”
• Roni Neff, program director at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, notes that the United States wastes 40% of its food supply and lays out a series of strategies for cutting that total in half by 2030.
• New York State Assembly member Didi Barrett points to soil carbon sequestration as an option that “improves soil health and productivity, thereby maximizing crop yields. It also increases soil resilience and reduces the need for pesticides.”
• Juliette Majot, executive director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, calls for regulations on the “factory farm model of livestock production”, noting that the world’s 20 largest meat and dairy conglomerates “emitted more greenhouse gases in 2016 than several Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries did.”
• Former Republican Congress member Carlos Curbelo of Florida urges his former colleagues to adopt a carbon tax.
• R Street Institute Senior Fellow Josiah Neeley calls for open electricity markets to break the monopoly privileges currently available to many local utilities in the U.S. “Over the past decade, market-driven declines in the price of renewable energy and natural gas have led to the closure of many coal power plants,” he writes. “But because electric rates in monopoly systems are set based on what’s needed for utilities to recover their costs, the utility companies have less incentive to retire uneconomical plants.”
• Sunrise Movement founder and spokesperson Varshini Prakash says the U.S. needs a Green New Deal to address the full scope of the climate crisis. “While the Green New Deal would require a scale of government action not seen since the Great Depression and the Second World War, this type of job-creating policy is extremely popular and could ensure economic security to millions of Americans for the first time in decades, especially people of colour and poor or middle-class Americans who have been left out of the economic gains of the past four decades,” she states. “We can solve the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced and protect our air, water, and land for future generations.”
Meanwhile, the Rocky Mountain Institute looks back on 2018 as a record year for corporate renewable energy purchases in the United States. The two takeaways: Renewables are economic, and “the private sector prefers a clean energy transition.”
RMI adds up announced corporate renewables procurement to a total of 6.43 gigawatts as of December 14, with Facebook leading the charge with 1,894.5 megawatts of capacity. The procurements are all at utility scale, from five to 315 megawatts each, and “they are all off-site—they are not panels on a factory roof, but rather large wind and solar projects and farms developed to feed the grid.”
And on Vox, writers Umair Irfan and David Roberts find three positive trends in 2018 that will help the U.S. address climate change: the continuing rise of clean technology, the falling cost of those same technologies, and the growing prominence of the climate crisis as a top-tier political issue. An August 2018 survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that 85% supported renewable energy research, 82% supported tax rebates for energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels, 77% wanted carbon dioxide regulated as a pollutant, 70% supported strict CO2 limits on existing coal plants, 68% agreed that fossil companies should be required to pay a carbon tax, 63% supported regulating utilities to produce 20% of their electricity from renewable sources—and only 32% agreed with drilling for oil in the environmentally precarious Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“Make no mistake: We do still need much more federal, state, local, and private action on climate change, and on a vastly larger scale than anything we’ve seen to date,” Irfan and Roberts conclude. “What we accomplished in 2018 is nowhere near enough, but it’s not nothing. We have a better sense of our climate goals, we have a pretty good idea of what it would take to meet them, and we have some momentum. The challenge now is building the global will to launch ourselves further and faster than ever toward a future without carbon emissions.”