With Joe Biden in the White House and John Kerry taking charge of the nation’s side-tracked response to climate change, prospects have improved that the planet’s livability can be retained. The president-elect’s proposal to direct some $2 trillion for that goal over the next four years may be blocked by a reluctant Congress already gagging over proposed trillions for pandemic relief. But since he first proclaimed climate change to be one of his top priorities, Biden has cloaked his plan as a job-creation bonanza.
On the president-elect’s long list of things he’ll do on day one is re-joining the Paris Climate Accord, a loosely binding pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to suppress and then reduce ever-rising global temperatures.
In tandem, Biden has endorsed Senator Tom Udall’s legacy-sealing legislation, the 30 By 30 Resolution which calls for concerted and sustained action to halt destruction of natural ecosystems, establishing a national goal of conserving at least 30 percent of the land and ocean of the United States by the year 2030. In it, Udall asserts that “conserving and restoring nature is one of the most efficient and cost-effective strategies for fighting climate change.” (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXIX No.13 September 19, 2020 “Senator Tom Udall Urges Push to ‘Save Nature’ By 2030.”)
Biden’s own climate plan as enunciated during the campaign has the following goals:
• Ensure that the United States achieves a 100 percent clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050.
The Democratic candidate said he would immediately sign a series of new executive orders to correct reckless orders issued by Trump. He said he would demand that Congress enact legislation in the first year of his presidency that: 1) establishes an enforcement mechanism that includes milestone targets no later than the end of his first term in 2025; 2) makes a historic investment in clean energy and climate research and innovation; and 3) incentivizes the rapid deployment of clean energy innovations across the economy, especially in communities most impacted by climate change.
• Build a stronger, more resilient nation by making infrastructure investments to rebuild the nation and to ensure that our buildings, water, transportation and energy infrastructure can withstand the impacts of climate change.
• Aid in development of regional climate resilience plans, in partnership with local universities and national labs, for local access to the most relevant science, data, information, tools and training, and
• Rally the rest of the world to meet the threat of climate change. Biden said he will not only re-commit the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change, he will go much further.
Even if Biden fails to move bold initiatives through Congress, it has been clear for more than five years that much of the needed action to confront climate change would come from the private sector, and that continues to be the expectation. Partly due to the pandemic’s drag on the economy, greenhouse gas emissions are expected to drop dramatically in 2020, probably to their lowest level in the last 30 years. That means the United States at least temporarily is on track to meet the pledged reductions made by John Kerry and the Obama administration at the 2015 Paris conference. Even without the Trump administration’s participation in the global agreement, by the end of 2020, the United States was nearly half-way to meeting the reduction goals set by Obama-Kerry in 2015.
U.S. corporations and others around the world have pledged deep cuts in emissions and conversions to renewable, green energy sources. This fall, Japan’s leadership pledged to transform that nation’s economy to be carbon-neutral by 2050. The European Union and South Korea have pledged to reach net zero by then as well. Earlier this year, China promised to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2060.
Current projections indicate that production of electricity from renewable sources will surpass that from burning coal within the next five years, according to the International Energy Agency. Closer to home, Public Service Company of New Mexico continues its plan to convert electrical generation from coal to renewables in the near term. PNM is moving ahead with announced plans to close the San Juan Generating Station as well as the Four Corners station in compliance with the N.M. Legislature’s Energy Transitions Act.
The act sets a statewide renewable energy standard of 50 percent by 2030 for New Mexico’s investor-owned utilities and rural electic co-ops leading to a goal of 80 percent renewables by 2040. Investor-owned utilities are to reach zero carbon emissions by 2045. Three solar electric generating projects in San Juan County are planned to partially make up for those closures. The first expected to begin delivering electricity would be the San Juan Solar project to generate 598 megawatts of power, accompanied by 300 megawatts of storage capacity nearby. Another indication of the way things are going: the N.M. General Services Department last month cleared the way to order 28 electric vehicles for the State’s motor pool. Installation of 30 charging stations is nearing completion at state government locations around Santa Fe.
Biden’s choice of John Kerry as the administration’s point-man on climate change offers maximum leverage for effectiveness at home and abroad. Not only was Kerry U.S. Secretary of State under President Barack Obama, he also headed the U.S. delegation to the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris. As such, his role was key to the international agreement’s success. (See Corrales Comment’s coverage of the Paris conference starting with Vol.XXXIV No.21 December 19, 2015 “U.N. Climate Change Accord: Citizen Action Made It Happen.”)
Kerry’s commitment to confronting climate change runs deep. Along with Al Gore, Kerry was a delegate from Congress to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 when he was 49 years old. That global conference established the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change which set in motion years of international collaboration culminating with the 2015 Paris accord. As a senator from Massachusetts, Kerry was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and delivered a benchmark address to the United Nations on the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit.
“When it comes to the challenge of climate change, the falsehood of today’s naysayers is only matched by the complacency of our political system,” Kerry said in that 2012 speech, promising unrelenting support for the campaign to confront climate change. “We knew the road ahead would be long. But we also knew that this was a watershed moment —that it created the kind of grassroots momentum that made people sit up and start to listen to the damage we were doing to the environment.”
He was the Democratic Party’s candidate for the presidency in 2004. Kerry also led U.S. delegations for negotiations at the U.N. climate conferences in Kyoto in 1997, Buenos Aires in 1998, The Hague in 2000, Bali in 2007, Poznan in 2008 and Copenhagen in 2009.
Al Gore, 44 when he chaired the U.S. Senate delegation to the Earth Summit in Rio, later founded and still leads The Climate Reality Project. Like Kerry, Gore ran for president of the United States, winning the popular vote in 2000 but losing to George W. Bush in a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In an op-ed essay for the New York Times Sunday, December 13, Gore expressed hope with Kerry leading the Biden effort on climate. “Even as the climate crisis rapidly worsens, scientists, engineers and business leaders are making use of stunning advances in technology to end the world’s dependence on fossil fuels far sooner than was hoped possible.…
“Slowing the rapid warming of the planet will require a unified global effort. Mr. Biden can lead by strengthening the country’s commitment to reduce emissions under the Paris agreement —something the country is poised to do thanks to the work of cities, states, businesses and investors, which have continued to make progress despite resistance from the Trump administration.”