We know we need massive decreases in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 if 177 countries are to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.
But before emissions go on a steep decline, we need to turn the corner. At Environmental Defense Fund, we have analyzed what it would take to turn the corner by 2020, and zeroed in on a few key actions that will halt the rise in global emissions and make them start to go down. For good.
Christiana Figueres, the United Nations official who led the Paris climate talks, rightly talks about technology, finance and policy – technologies to store and distribute energy, financing to scale the technology we have, and policies to reward innovators who deliver results.
In my home town of San Francisco this week, the Clean Energy Ministerial will bring together innovators, investors and key government officials, marking a shift toward serious focus on achieving the Paris goals.
The energy ministers of the United States, China, Europe and India should heed the terrific work to chart paths for the future (including this global partnership). And this year, they can note three key policies already yielding measurable results.
1. A price on carbon
A price on carbon rewards those who reduce pollution, and penalizes those who lag behind. It helps market forces spur innovation and make sure we meet our goals. The good news? Some major carbon-emitting nations and states are moving ahead.
Most critically, China has committed to putting a nationwide emissions trading system in place by next year – making the country the global leader in carbon markets.
Sixty-seven jurisdictions have or are implementing carbon markets. Globally, there is a realistic path to doubling the share of greenhouse gas emissions covered by carbon pricing mechanisms, from about 12 percent today to 25 percent of global emissions by 2020.
2. America’s climate action plan
In the U.S., an ambitious plan is already under way, one that will protect people from diseases such as asthma, reduce carbon pollution, and boost clean energy.
Maybe the best news is that the centerpiece, the Clean Power Plan, is designed to reduce household energy bills by about $80 per year by 2030, while driving down pollution. We are also moving to reduce methane emissions.
Make no mistake, the U.S. still has work to do. We will need new laws and policies in the next few years to get us on track to compete in a low-carbon future, and to meet our commitments made in Paris.
3. Policies accelerating the clean electricity grid
Every environmental advance in the U.S. has been preceded by experimentation and progress in the states. The urgent work of decarbonizing our electricity system is no different and for that, we need significant advances in transparency and dynamic pricing.
Transparency: The grid of the future envisions home appliances, electric vehicles, rooftop solar, and smart thermostats operating seamlessly with the power grid. And, today, more than 50 million smart meters connect American homes and businesses to the grid. Unfortunately, information is almost always hidden from the people who could use it to reduce costs and pollution.
In Illinois, EDF and the Citizens Utility Board developed a solution to create transparency – now adopted by state regulators and local utilities. Energy entrepreneurs such as Nest and Google plan to use the data to help customers save energy and money.
Dynamic pricing: For 20 years, the Nobel prize-winning theory of dynamic pricing has benefitted a range of industries from hotels to Uber. Dynamic pricing could also benefit utilities, and smart states are taking notice. By 2019, nearly 9 million residential customers in California will have “time-of-use” as their default pricing, for example.
We do not have to choose between a healthy environment and shared prosperity. If we raise our ambitions and reward those who do the right thing, we can turn the corner on climate change by 2020.