What It Will Take to Reduce U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions By 80 Percent By 2050
U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have declined, but they are projected to increase in the coming decades and be just 12 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. It is possible to reduce emissions in the U.S. by at least 80 percent by 2050, as a recent report by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) shows. Over 20 power, oil, and gas, transportation, building, manufacturing, agricultural, industrial and tech companies participated in developing the three scenarios the report presents.
The report’s three scenarios consist of:
- Competitive climate: A “strong, early” federal response can come from international pressure by carbon tariffs and from recognizing that low-carbon innovation has “competitive benefits.”
- Climate federalism: A growing amount of U.S. states implement climate policies, which leads to business calling for a “more harmonized national response.”
- Low-carbon lifestyles: A market demand for “low-carbon consumption products and services” stems from generational shifts, technological breakthroughs, and increased urbanization.
“This is the first U.S. decarbonization analysis that benefits from close engagement with leading companies across all the key sectors,” said C2ES President Bob Perciasepe, in a statement.
“The individual scenarios are interesting, but what’s most valuable are the insights you draw as you construct them and as you look across them,” said Perciasepe.
A competitive climate
What will it take to create the competitive climate scenario? In short, it will take nothing less than a restructuring of the world trading system which would lead to aggressive carbon tariffs and carbon-based trading partnerships as the main part of many countries decarbonization strategies. For the U.S. federal government specifically, it will take partnership with the business community, and a “comprehensive federal policy” that includes a national price on carbon in 2022. It would also take clean power and vehicle efficiency standards that are nothing less than ambitious.
Even more specifically, a competitive climate would include a carbon price starting at $40 a ton in 2024 and increase eight percent a year. It would also include carbon price revenues peaking at over $350 billion a year around 2040. And it will take both companies responding to public policies and a “patriotic interest in winning the clean tech race.” Or in other words, it will take the same kind of passion Americans displayed in becoming the first to walk on the moon.
Creating the climate federalism scenario will require states to take aggressive action to reduce emissions. The efforts of states would create a “fragmented regulatory and policy landscape that persists for about a decade.” Businesses and investors would force the federal government to create a unified response to the climate crisis as a result of costs increases due to dealing with the patchwork system of state laws by the early 2030s. Specifically, carbon price revenues would peak at $330 billion a year around 2045 and would be used by the federal government to aid states and local municipalities to deal with climate change.
Cities will play an important role in the low-carbon lifestyles scenario. They will be early drivers of climate policy. There will also be commercial pressures from inside and outside the U.S. which will force decarbonization across all sectors and regions of the country. The federal government will mainly play a supporting role until it starts to engage with the increasing regional inequities in the 2030s and 2040s. Under this scenario, cities will “take aggressive, paradigm-shifting actions” which result in reduced emissions while providing other benefits.
Key takeaways from the report
One of the key takeaways from the report is that fundamental shifts in the way we produce energy, goods, deliver services and manage lands is needed to decarbonize the U.S. economy. Those shifts can be accomplished by alternative pathways that reflect divert drivers and societal choices. And decarbonization will also require action from all Americans.
Why not begin to take action now? Find ways to reduce your carbon footprint and impact on the environment. Swap single-use plastic bags at the grocery store for reusable bags, and bottled water for a reusable water bottle. Just those two simple actions can have an impact if many people did them.