WASHINGTON – President Biden’s new pledge to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade is ambitious and specific. However, experts say that success would require rapid and sweeping changes to virtually every corner of the country’s economy, changing the way Americans drive, work, heat their homes, and run their factories.
In several recent studies, researchers have examined what a future America might look like if it is to meet Mr. Biden’s new climate goal: The nation’s emissions to warm the planet are to be cut by at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 become.
By the end of the decade, according to these studies, more than half of new cars and SUVs sold at dealerships will have to run on electricity rather than gasoline. Almost all coal-fired power plants would have to be shut down. Forests would have to be expanded. The number of wind turbines and solar panels in the country’s landscape could quadruple.
It is theoretically achievable, researchers say, but it is an enormous challenge. To get there, the Biden administration would likely have to put in place a variety of new federal guidelines, many of which could face obstacles in Congress or in court. And policy makers must be careful to take action that does not cause serious economic damage, such as: B. widespread job losses or spikes in energy prices that could cause a setback.
“It’s not an easy task,” said Nathan Hultman, director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Global Sustainability. “We won’t be able to sit back and hope that market forces alone will do the job.”
The United States has a head start for now. The Rhodium Group estimates that the country’s greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by around 21 percent since 2005. Much of this decline was due to the fact that electric utilities stopped hundreds of their dirtiest coal plans and switched to cheaper and cleaner natural gas, wind and solar power.
However, about a third of the previous reductions can be attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, as business collapsed and Americans drove less. This decline is likely to prove fleeting. “We expect emissions to rebound this year as the economy recovers, so we’re pulling back a bit,” said Kate Larsen, director of the Rhodium Group.
The harder part is yet to come. In two recent studies, Mr. Hultman and his colleagues modeled possible ways to achieve emissions reductions of at least 50 percent by 2030. The changes would be far-reaching:
By 2030, half of the country’s electricity would come from renewable sources such as wind, sun or hydropower; today it is only a fifth.
New natural gas plants would largely be built with technology that can capture carbon dioxide instead of releasing it into the atmosphere – a technology that is still in its infancy.
Virtually all 200 remaining coal-fired power plants would be shut down unless they too could capture their emissions and bury them underground.
By 2030, two thirds of the new cars and SUVs sold would be battery-powered, compared to around two percent today.
All new buildings would be heated with electricity rather than natural gas.
The country’s cement, steel and chemical industries would set tough new energy efficiency targets.
Oil and gas producers would cut emissions of methane, a powerful heat scavenger gas, by 60 percent.
The nation’s forests would expand and agricultural practices would be revamped so that they pull 20 percent more carbon dioxide from the air than they do today.
While this research provides just one example of how the United States might achieve its goal, it shows the vast extent of the transformation being envisaged. “These are massive changes in power and traffic, and even then, you can’t just focus on those sectors,” said Hultman. “If we fall short in one area, the task becomes all the more difficult.”
It remains to be seen whether the Biden government can adopt new guidelines that will actually achieve all of these goals. The White House has yet to pinpoint the exact steps it will take to ensure that the United States reaches its new climate target, although it has given some signals.
For example, Mr Biden put the idea of a clean electricity standard into action that would require utilities to get all of their electricity from low-carbon sources such as wind, solar, nuclear or even natural gas with carbon capture by 2035. But that policy is facing a battle in Congress.
April 22, 2021, 2:37 p.m. ET
And while the Biden government is working on stricter fuel consumption standards for pollution from cars and light trucks, it hasn’t proposed strict sales targets for electric vehicles as states like California have been calling for.
Mr Biden has also shied away from ideas like a carbon price where polluters would have to pay for their carbon emissions, which gives them an incentive to clean up their act. Europe and Canada have passed programs like this, and a recent study by Resources for the Future, a non-partisan think tank, found that the United States could cut its carbon emissions by 54 percent by 2030 if it introduced a carbon tax that starts at $ 40 per ton, up 5 percent every year.
However, some analysts say carbon pricing would be a tough sell for many lawmakers.
“There is an idea in Europe that carbon pricing is inevitable and that this is the way to go,” said Samantha Gross, director of the Brookings Institution’s energy security and climate initiative, Tuesday. “I see this point and I understand it, but at least now this point is facing a wall of US policy that does not support carbon pricing.”
Mr Hultman said that even if the Biden government fails to implement some of its more ambitious proposals, such as a clean electricity standard, other options may be available.
His research found that the United States could potentially make significant strides toward its climate goal by significantly expanding federal tax credits on a variety of clean energy technologies – including electric vehicles, charging stations, wind, solar and carbon capture – an idea that In the past it has been found that the audience in Congress is more receptive.
The Environmental Protection Agency could also enact new regulations for automakers, coal and gas plants, and oil drills to fill that void. While these rules wouldn’t require Congress approval, they could be pushed back by a more conservative Supreme Court.
But even if many or even all of these guidelines go into effect, one bigger question remains unanswered: Mr. Biden’s term ends in 2024. What happens if he is succeeded by a president who rejects his climate target, like President Trump’s rules Has President Obama Dismantled? Greenhouse gas emissions?
“That is my concern,” said Ms. Gross of Brookings. “Most of all, I worry that the fear of such a reversal and the endless litigation that will accompany it is dampening the investment signal the regulation should send.”
Republicans have already sharply criticized Mr Biden’s climate target as being detrimental to the American economy. “The president’s program will cost working families a fortune in higher energy bills,” said Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso. “It will also affect America’s international competitiveness.”
Mr Biden tried to shape the transformation as a tremendous economic opportunity. “I see line workers laying thousands of kilometers of transmission lines for a clean, modern and resilient network,” he said on Thursday. “I see the engineers and construction workers building new carbon capture and green hydrogen facilities to forge cleaner steel and cement.”
In order for Mr Biden to meet his climate goals, experts say he has to essentially win that argument to show that it is possible to quickly scale up new clean energy industries that will benefit Americans and create large new constituencies that shaping his politics politically difficult to relax.
There is a precedent for that. President Obama expanded tax incentives on wind and solar energy during his two terms in office, which has helped lower the cost of both technologies and fueled large new industries that now employ hundreds of thousands of workers. During the Trump administration in December, bipartisan majorities in Congress agreed to extend tax credits for technologies like wind and solar power with relatively little effort.
And the federal government would not necessarily act alone. States like California and New York are separately pursuing their own aggressive emissions reduction goals. Cities across the country are enacting stricter building codes and installing charging stations for electric vehicles. Big companies like General Motors or Google have made a specific promise to switch to electric vehicles and cleaner energy.
While many of these promises are still uncertain – and haven’t gotten as widespread in more conservative Red states – experts say that significantly expanding these local and business efforts could help propel the United States toward its goal if the Federal government comes up short.
“When climate action becomes much more widespread at the state, city, or business level, it is far more robustly anchored,” said Hultman. “Then these climate targets will not only be seen as a numbers game, but as a social transformation.”