“The science of climate change is leaping out at us like a scene from a 3D movie. It’s warning us; it’s compelling us to act. And let there be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the science is absolutely certain.”
John Kerry, Secretary Of State
On June 1, the EPA announced new regulations that seek to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from existing electric power plants by 30%, from 2005 levels. This is the latest in a series of federal regulations that seek to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in order to fight climate change. Others include the September, 2013 announcement that EPA would begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, the 2011 announcement that the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for cars and light trucks would increase to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, and a series of increasing efficiency standards on consumer goods.
Added to these federal regulations is a significant move to renewable electricity generation – pushed by both federal tax benefits and state-level standards across the country.
All of this means that there will be less of the dirtiest sources of energy and more cleaner burning fossil fuels like natural gas. The electricity grid will have more variability, so it will have to become smarter. Less energy will be wasted. By 2030, partially because of these policies, the U.S. will have reduced emissions below the 2005 baseline by about around 30%.
For all of the political controversy, this is all relatively easy. The U.S has already reduced emissions about 13% below 2005 levels already. The U.S. could meet the President’s Climate Action Plan within the span of a few years, with no real technological advances, instead of the 15 years envisioned by the Administration.
Unfortunately, these actions alone are not nearly enough. In order to prevent the worst effects of climate change, total warming must remain under a rise of two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial baseline.
Leaders of the G7 and the G20 have repeatedly stated they intend to meet that target. However, the latest IPCC report, released in April 2014, showed that in order to even have a 50% chance of meeting that 2 degree limit, total global emissions will have to peak around 2020 and will have to drop to around 50% below today’s levels by 2050. Such a global effort would likely require developed countries like the U.S. to reduce emissions to around 80% below 2005 levels. This will not be easy.
No major country has a plan to meet this target. There is a clear disconnect between what we have committed to do (keep temperatures at a safe level) and the means with which we will do it.
That means we have to start thinking: How can we get to this target while remaining economically strong? In other words: What is the next generation of energy?
The next steps in building a cleaner, more resilient energy system and economy will not be easy. The American Security Project intends to build on its years of research into energy security and climate policy by initiating a study into the next generation of energy policy.
ASP will convene a conference on September 30, 2014 in order to draw on expertise from industry, academia, government, and NGOs to discuss the next generation of energy technology and climate policy. This conference will discuss how to truly ensure that natural gas is the transition fuel that it has been touted as – not a “bridge to nowhere.” It will look at the challenges of how to bring more renewable power into an antiquated energy system – and how to overcome those challenges. It will discuss how to catalyze the development of new energy technologies that can bridge the gap between what has been promised and what current technology can achieve.
The truth is, we need to break the link between economic growth and carbon emissions, if we are serious about meeting the challenges of the 21st Century. It is a mistake to think that the challenges we face today will be the challenges of tomorrow.
It is an even bigger mistake to think that the technologies we have today will look like the technologies of tomorrow.
We must start thinking today, in order to be prepared for tomorrow – in order to secure our American future.