Climate scientists told us late last year in the National Climate Assessment that the United States is already experiencing severe and costly impacts of a changing climate. In a separate United Nations report released in October, scientists reported that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would require a gargantuan global effort — and that we have roughly 12 years to do it. But how?
One bright spot to remember this Earth Day is that we already have the tools we need. Let’s make something clear, though: The emissions we need to focus on now are the ones at the industrial, corporate level.
According to the Carbon Majors Database, 71 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 can be traced back to just 100 fossil fuel companies. Hitting the 1.5°C or 2°C goals means these corporations, their customers, and other large enterprises must phase out fossil fuels (more aggressively than what Shell laid out in its vision for a zero-carbon world).
Governments will also have to come up with tax schemes to generate new revenue for investment in and incentives for renewable energy, reforestation, and carbon removal technologies. And we need to vote for leaders who will deliver on them.
The Trump administration is obviously contributing little to these efforts, trying its best to roll back Obama’s suite of climate policies and enable the continuation of fossil fuel dominance. But a growing number of younger leaders around the world understand what’s at stake and are pushing for more ambitious goals, like the ones outlined in the Green New Deal.
Here are some examples of strategies that are working and need to be rolled out worldwide:
1) Price carbon emissions
By adding a cost to emitting greenhouse gases, you create an incentive to produce less of them and switch to alternatives. It’s hard to convince someone to pay for something if they can get it for free. Right now, much of the world can dump their greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at no charge. And we don’t have many straightforward ways to value the carbon that trees and algae help pull out of the atmosphere.
Though the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report didn’t explicitly discuss the economics of fighting climate change, the authors highlighted at a press conference that attaching a price tag to greenhouse gases is a critical step in limiting warming. “Carbon pricing and the right economic signals are going to be part of the mix,” said Jim Skea, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III. Even fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil is campaigning for a carbon tax.
To date, at least 40 countries have priced carbon in some form. Some have done it through a carbon tax. Cap-and-trade schemes for carbon dioxide are also underway, like the European Union’s Emissions Trading System. China now runs the world’s largest carbon trading market. Even some regions in the United States have cap-and-trade schemes, like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative among eastern states.
But, as our colleague David Roberts wrote on Twitter, “A price on carbon of some sort is, wonks almost universally agree, an important part of a comprehensive climate strategy. But the details make all the difference in whether it’s regressive or not, effective or not, popular or not, passable or not.”