Can we make climate progress in 2020?

Keith Gaby

Wildfires, extreme heat and rising seas are making the dangers of climate change more obvious to everyone who’s paying attention — but it’s probably less clear to a lot of people what we can do now, in 2020, to give ourselves a better future.

First the bad news. The United States won’t take the kind of bold action we need in 2020. President Trump is actively seeking to undermine limits on climate pollution. While there are positive signs in Congress, it’s not enough to win, yet.

But we can still make really important progress in 2020 by doing what’s necessary to build support for action next year, when the political calculus might be different.

That’s not an ideal answer for a problem that gets worse by the day, but it’s the truth. And it might be enough to make a big difference for the next generation.

How 2019 showed us what’s possible and what’s necessary

Think of it this way: 2019 was the year climate change turned into a major political force. Polls showed it becoming a top-tier political issue for the first time, and presidential candidates competed to put out the boldest plan.

Americans took to the streets, responding to activists like Greta Thunberg and a new generation of political leaders.

In Congress, 160 members of the House — from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, centrist New Democrats, Black and Hispanic caucuses, and others — cosponsored an ambitious bill to move us to a 100% clean future.

In 2020, that political energy needs to be organized into an effective coalition that can create change.

Climate activists need to build and strengthen partnerships with labor unions, environmental justice advocates, health groups, forward-thinking companies, moderates in both parties and others. So when the time is right, we'll have the most powerful coalition possible.

These groups share a goal — solving climate change — but sometimes stress different priorities. That’s OK, but we should use 2020 to work together to find the best path forward.

Limiting pollution across the entire economy will be critical

We also need to work through the details of policies: how exactly we will cut pollution and create a 100% clean future that is fair, efficient and durable.

Climate change is a complex challenge, and we need to be ready to offer solutions when the moment arrives for Congress to act. We know we need limits on pollution across the entire economy — but what are the best ways to help us achieve those reductions?

For instance:

  • How should the limits be designed?
  • Should we put a fee on emissions to incentivize clean energy?
  • Should we simply direct the Environmental Protection Agency and the states to get us to 100% clean?
  • How will we reduce pollution from buildings, transportation and manufacturing?

Working out as many of those answers as possible in 2020 means we can move faster in 2021.

Where this important work is already happening

We also need to keep doing what we did in 2019 — building awareness, marching in the streets and demanding action.

The Congress that convenes in January of 2021 must feel it has no choice but to act boldly on climate change. (If you’re feeling overwhelmed or don’t know how to get involved, here’s some advice, or click the "Take action now" link below.)

The good news is that all of this is already underway. Alliances are being formed, policies are being debated on Capitol Hill and those activists who did so much to turn up the heat in 2019 are continuing their work.

Of course, the U.S. Congress isn’t the only place to make climate progress. Cities, states and companies have been moving forward.

And this global challenge needs more international action. But until we get national action in the United States, it’s hard to see how we’ll solve this problem.

So, together, let’s make 2020 the year we put ourselves in the best position to win.