Conference leaders from The American Response to Climate Change released their detailed plans today [pdf] that include specific recommendations designed to harness market forces to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emission in the United States. The plan says that fast action in energy efficiency alone would result in $140 billion in economic benefit in the next 20 years. Drafting this report was a principle focus of a national gathering of leaders from industry, finance, academia and non-governmental organizations held at The Wild Center this past June according to conference leaders
The report was quickly emailed to key figures advising the next administration, according to Kate Fish, the conference director. “They’re asking to get copies of the report because many of the leaders who participated in the conference are being consulted on strategy.”
“The whole conference was timed so that we could produce this document in time for this planning stage for whichever new administration was going to decide the American response,” said Ross Whaley, former President of SUNY ESF and conference co chair.
In its opening pages the report’s authors, Carter F. Bales, who was conference co chair and Richard Duke, who heads the Center for Market Innovation at the Natural Resources Defense Council, call on the United States to take a world-leading position. “The time has come for the United States to lead the fight against global warming at home and abroad. We are the world’s leading innovator, and many U.S. businesses are beginning to recognize the profit potential of clean-energy alternatives. With forceful federal legislation and global negotiations, our nation can transition to real investment in a new energy economy that restores economic growth by building a world-class domestic energy infrastructure while protecting the planet and improving energy security.”
The report details four main action areas, and warns about the high costs of a failure to act quickly and decisively, including a predicted 5 to 20 percent collapse of global GDP from climate-related disruptions. The report also stresses that the four planks are designed to support each other, and that all four are needed to deliver an effective action plan. The report says that three criteria drove the decision about where to focus the plan, that it was market-driven and not driven by regulation, that it was fair so that it did not impact one group more advantageously or negatively than another, and that it could be rapidly enacted and implemented.
The first part of the plan is a declining cap on the total carbon emissions produced in the Unites States. The cap would encourage investment in low-or zero carbon energy solutions by setting a firm and predictably increasing price for carbon pollution. Companies that needed to continue to pollute, a power plant for example, would buy the rights to do so from organizations that were cutting their emissions and didn’t need their rights. Companies would earn money buy cutting their carbon pollution, and the more they could cut, the more they could earn. The money from selling those rights would be used to invest in more low carbon solutions. This cap-and-trade process would use market forces of supply and demand to move energy production from carbon to non-carbon sources according to the report.
The second action area outlines a series of strategies to promote energy efficiency that would in many cases have a zero cost. Setting energy efficiency standards on appliances that would save consumers money is one example. Using the new appliance would cut energy costs by more than the cost of the appliance, resulting in lower costs and lower emissions. The third plank recommends a major federal effort to encourage new energy technology investment and create an energy innovation explosion similar to the technology revolution that transformed the economy in the 1990s. The final plank is a plan to maximize the amount or carbon taken back by forests and agricultural lands to help buy time for the plan’s other steps to cut into the rate of emissions. According to the report, an improved plan for managing these lands could absorb 500 million tons of carbon per year. A report by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a conference participant, states that the 500 million tons represents a third of all U.S. emissions.
The full report calls for a reduction in U.S. emissions of at least 80 percent by 2050, and says the solution is affordable and would rely for almost 60 percent of its funding on redirecting investments away from low efficiency into high efficiency areas. The report says that even using conservative numbers the total cost for the plan would be 1 percent of national GDP by 2030. “We have a really good idea of what the cost will be if we don’t act,” said Bales. “We don’t need to get more scared, what we need is the political will to turn this crisis into an opportunity. We believe that the work represented by this “Message to the Nation” can help define that opportunity.”