Energy & Environment

UN-linked plan charts US course to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050

A United Nations-linked initiative is offering what it bills as a possible road map for the U.S. to tackle climate change under a potential new administration.

The Zero Carbon Action Plan (ZCAP), crafted by roughly 100 individuals spanning academia and think tanks, would help the U.S. reach the goals of the Paris Climate Accord and hit net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The research found that a transition to almost entirely clean sources of energy would only cost 0.4 percent more of the U.S.’s gross domestic product (GDP) than sticking with fossil fuels, while creating 2.5 million new jobs by midcentury.

“For less than one-half of 1 percent of GDP, we can fundamentally shift to a clean energy foundation for our economy — and realize incalculable benefits,” the group said in a release. 

ZCAP’s analysis relies on modeling that attempts to find “technologically and economically sound options [that] fit within the institutional framework of the U.S. federal system.” 

“We needed to have a package that was sustainable from a scientific perspective, economically effective and efficient, and politically attractive and viable,” said Dan Esty, a professor at Yale University who took a leading role in crafting the policy. “I think we’ve achieved that.”

The plan calls for reducing the carbon footprint of the electricity sector by 60 percent by 2030 and ratcheting up from there. But while the proposal would end the use of coal, it does not fully transition away from fossil fuels, citing a need to rely on natural gas to help with the intermittency of renewable sources.

“For purposes of maintaining electricity system reliability, a substantial fleet of gas-fired power generators needs to remain in place in 2050, roughly comparable to today’s level of capacity. However, these generators will run much less often than they do at present, comprising only a few percent of total electricity generation,” the report states.

The plan comes as several other plans to reach net-zero emissions have been produced.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s plan also calls for net-zero emissions, but would reach 100 percent clean energy for the electric sector by 2035. Plans from Democrats on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in each chamber have also been released.

But the ZCAP authors, some of whom have close connections to the Biden campaign, are hopeful their ideas might be considered by a future administration. 

The ZCAP plan, like others, calls for electrification of vehicles and public transit to reduce emissions from the transportation sector as well as other efforts to reduce the impact of buildings and industry while reimagining land use to both reduce carbon output and find new ways to store it.

But it also lays out specific actions at every level of government that must be taken over the next year, even down to a more local level where decisions about infrastructure, building codes and land use are made.

“All these different layers of government need to move in the same direction in order to achieve these goals,” said Vicki Arroyo with the Georgetown Climate Center, who helped author the report’s transportation section.

At the federal level that means establishing a White House Office on Climate Change to coordinate efforts, along with a minimum $2 trillion in funding. It calls for federal-level plans to decarbonize both the electric and transportation sector as well as a financing mechanism for green projects.

On the state level, governments must create their own implementation plans for reducing carbon from cars, buildings and electricity. Local government would be tasked with developing zero-emission building codes and pushing efforts to retrofit older buildings.

Tags carbon emissions Carbon footprint Climate change Global warming Joe Biden Renewable energy transition Sustainable energy zero carbon action plan

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