December 31, 2019
Climate change is making global headlines following the collapse of global climate talks in Madrid. At the top of the United Nation’s agenda was voluntary international cooperation — because sometimes it is more cost effective to pay for reduced emissions elsewhere rather than cut emissions on your own.
Both here in the U.S. and abroad, policymakers must ignore the distractions and finger-pointing and focus on two things: embracing all possible technologies to avoid, reduce, capture and sequester greenhouse gases; and using market-based approaches to get the job done fast.
Taking options off the table makes solving climate change harder. Unfortunately, that’s just what some proposals do. Senator Bernie Sanders’ version of the Green New Deal calls carbon capture and sequestration a “false solution” and Michael Bloomberg’s campaign to move “beyond coal” ignores how U.S. technologies could stave off the worst effects of climate change if they’re deployed around the world.
In just the past 18 months, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, China, saw coal-fired capacity grow by almost 5 percent. And coal-fired plants are also being built in Africa and other parts of Asia. These proposals miss the mark and risk repeating the mistake of vilifying coal — a mistake Hillary Clinton made in her 2016 campaign.
Carbon capture utilization and storage is real and ready for prime time. In fact, if you’re having a beer or soda in Maryland there is a chance the bubbles in your drink are captured from a coal fired power plant instead of being released into the atmosphere. The Warrior Run coal fired power plant produces two things: electricity and beverage-grade CO2.
Pure carbon dioxide is captured from the exhaust stream and sold to local bottling facilities to add fizz to beverages. The market is also growing around technologies that turn carbon emissions from power plants and industrial sources into consumer goods. At the largest scale, carbon dioxide is being stored underground. Indeed, without maximum deployment of carbon capture and storage, it’s estimated avoiding the world’s effects of climate change could cost 138 percent more.
Fortunately, despite what some Democratic presidential candidates propose, there’s been bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill supporting carbon capture utilization and storage in the past. This is the most important thing for optimists to know: U.S. climate perspectives are not monolithic.
On the Republican side, despite concerns over the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord, there are more ideas on the table than ever before. The common denominator for Republicans is a focus on increasing options and decreasing costs for emissions reductions in the U.S. — and putting pressure on the world’s top polluters to do more.
At the state level, Republican Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has set a goal for net-zero emissions by 2040. Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) put forward a Green Real Deal that outlined a more prominent path for innovation and markets. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY) wrote recently about the need for market oriented solutions to climate change.
A voluntary framework to track carbon emissions, facilitate the exchange of carbon offsets, and track emissions avoidance through renewable energy purchases and energy efficiency has the potential to appeal to both sides of the aisle. It would empower states and companies to act on climate and provide a way for individuals and shareholders to make better decisions. Such a voluntary framework could increase transparency and accountability in the marketplace while encouraging a race to the top in environmental performance among public and private sector entities. It would pair well with the voluntary international cooperation mechanism envisioned under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement —whenever it is finalized.
President Calvin Coolidge’s slogan “Press On!” is a good guide for policymakers and advocates aiming for meaningful climate change policy. Now more than ever, “persistence and determination” are needed to make measurable progress and reduce emissions through commonsense climate policy. Do not be distracted by sideshows of fearful climate forecasts, U.S. Presidential politics, or policies that would put ideology and high price tags before solid, realistic solutions to reduce emissions. Good policy is possible — and Republicans are contributing more than you’d think.
Charles Hernick is the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Forum.