Each week, we’re compiling the most relevant news stories from diverse sources online, connecting the latest environmental and energy economics research to global current events, real-time public discourse, and policy decisions. Here are some questions we’re asking and addressing with our research chops this week:
House Democrats released a report this week that outlines their goals for decarbonizing the US economy. What in their plan could work, and what’s missing?
Democratic members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a far-reaching report this week, outlining the caucus’s goals for environmental policy in the coming decades. Comprising more than 500 pages and 12 “pillars” of broad priorities, the report emphasizes environmental justice concerns, endorses a price on carbon, advocates increased federal funding for carbon removal technologies, and sets out to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by 2050. With Republicans on the committee offering support for some elements of the report, but expressing reservations about any rapid transition away from fossil fuels, the document is more an articulation of goals than an immediate legislative priority. But it nevertheless previews what policymakers might prioritize if Democrats succeed in the elections this November and emerges as legislators from both parties push ambitious—if starkly different—responses to climate change.
How do RFF scholars interpret the sprawling report and the goals it lays out for a clean energy future? A new blog post, featuring commentary from ten RFF scholars, provides a guide to the “the most ambitious Democratic climate plan to date.” RFF Senior Fellow Dallas Burtraw stresses that “key policy pillars [in the report] will drive innovation and investment, support industry, and protect communities in the energy transformation,” while RFF Senior Research Associate Daniel Raimi says the “Just Transition” provisions in the plan offer an “ambitious vision” to help workers. Other scholars highlight some shortcomings: RFF Senior Advisor Ann M. Bartuska recommends that policymakers provide more direction to the US Department of Agriculture about which lands are suitable for carbon sequestration, and RFF Senior Fellow Marc Hafstead suggests that the report’s authors, while helpfully “offer[ing] principles for … an effective and equitable carbon pricing system” might not see carbon pricing as a priority. For more, read the blog post.
Related research and commentary:
The coronavirus-driven recession is hurting fossil fuels. Does this situation offer opportunities for the expansion of renewable power?
As the fossil fuel sector confronts an unprecedented decline in demand, American clean energy is proving surprisingly resilient. The outlook for renewables is not all sunny: the sector is shedding jobs, struggling to attract new investments, and receiving little help from a federal government that has so far been more concerned with protecting fossil fuel generation. But with demand for oil, natural gas, and coal plummeting, renewable power is making up an increasingly large portion of American electricity consumption—growing by nearly 40 percent over recent months and even surpassing coal. Plus, more installations of wind turbines and solar panels are expected in the United States this year than ever before, with even greater increases predicted for 2021. And while the challenges facing fossil fuel companies might subside once the pandemic eases, Americans may yet see a transition to an electric grid that’s less reliant on fossil fuels.
On a new, live-recorded episode of the Resources Radio podcast—which also comprises the first webinar in RFF’s ongoing Resources Radio Live event series—Tufts University’s Steve Cicala explores how the coronavirus pandemic has prompted a steep decline in electricity demand, with immediate implications for renewable power. “[Renewable energy] output was largely unaffected,” Cicala explains. “That really put the hurt on fossil-fired plants, gas, and coal. And I think it gave a lot of system operators a preview of how it's going to be, managing a grid with a [larger] percentage of renewables.” Cicala elaborates on his research, recently featured in the New York Times, which suggests that electricity demand could help us assess the overall health of the economy. For more on the economic and environmental consequences of COVID-19, tune in next Thursday, July 9, for a live recording of another Resources Radio episode, featuring Valentina Bosetti, whose continuing work covers the impacts of lockdown orders on emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.
Related research and commentary:
What do extreme temperatures in the polar regions indicate about the historic and future threat of climate change?
All regions of the world are feeling the effects of a changing climate. The Arctic Circle is in the midst of a historic heat wave, which is leaving a strong mark on the usually frigid weather of Siberia. The area has seen a massive increase in forest fires, and the town of Verkhoyansk reported a record high temperature of 100°F—far hotter than the typical June high of 68°F. This is not an isolated incident; the Arctic has been warming at a rate that’s twice the global average, largely due to the rapid loss of snow and ice that reflect solar radiation. Meanwhile, new research suggests a similar situation is unfolding in the South Pole, where the rate of increasing temperatures over the past three decades has been three times the global average. This is likely the result of oceanic and atmospheric currents, which are influenced in complex ways by climate change.
While similarly extreme shifts in climate have sparked public concern in recent years, climate change has been on the radar of scientists for decades. This enduring concern is evident in a recently republished article from the Resources archive in the new issue of the magazine, originally written in 1990 by the late RFF Senior Fellow Allen V. Kneese. Even early on, Kneese explored the phenomenon of global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions—which at that point was not as well understood—and predicted that international action to counteract warming temperatures would be more difficult than efforts to fight similar environmental problems, such as ozone depletion. In a new article that reflects on Kneese’s republished piece, former RFF President Paul R. Portney praises that original foresight, noting that relatively little has been done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the intervening decades. However, as Portney explores in another republished article in the new issue of Resources, these problems are far from insurmountable. A range of possible policy solutions may be implemented, Portney contends, highlighting market-based strategies as a way to incentivize practices that promote environmental preservation and a healthy economy.
Related research and commentary: