The International Energy Agency in mid May published a special report, Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, that should be of great interest to energy, climate, financial and other climate change policy makers globally.

“[To] give the world an even chance of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees centigrade,” the influential group said, decisive action must be taken immediately: “from today, no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects”; by 2030 a four-fold increase in solar and wind power; and every coming year “a major worldwide push to increase energy efficiency,” with the aim of tripling average annual improvements.

The U.S, “the biggest carbon polluter in history,” must play a leading role in such an undertaking. A tall order. Is it really possible to imagine such a performance?

Yale Climate Connections devotes this month’s bookshelf to new governmental and non-governmental reports that envision how, and why, the U.S. might rise to this occasion. These new reports distill the aspirations expressed in the 2020 presidential election (see, for example, here and here) into policy papers and planning scenarios.

At the top of the list below are recommendations for the Biden/Harris administration. Then follow analyses of the new economics of climate change, state-level actions,  challenges and opportunities for rural America, sector-specific roadmaps, and the role the conservation of American lands and ecosystems can play in meeting the climate challenge.

As always, the brief descriptions are drawn from copy provided by the organizations that published the reports. Free downloads are available for all of the reports in this list; some organizations require that readers first register with their site.

Recapturing U.S. Leadership on Climate: Setting an Ambitious and Credible Nationally Determined Contribution, by Nathaniel Keohane et al (Environmental Defense Fund 2021, 32 pages, free download available here)

After four years of climate inaction and science denial, the U.S. is officially back in the Paris Agreement. Now, to restore American leadership, the Biden administration must put forward a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) that is both ambitious and credible. In order to hit both marks, the administration should commit to cut emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030. This target is consistent with the science and with President Biden’s goal of a net-zero economy by 2050. Using a range of analyses that underscore the importance of early action, this EDF report demonstrates how achieving at least 50% reductions is possible – and vital for growing a stronger, more equitable, and clean U.S. economy.

Fair Shares Nationally Determined Contribution: United States of America, by Oscar Reyes et al (Friends of the Earth 2021, 33 pages, free download available here)

Released last month by environmental justice and international development groups, Fair Shares Nationally Determined Contributions lays out the measures the U.S. should commit to carrying out to do its “fair share” of the global effort to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, based on its status as the world’s wealthiest country and largest historical carbon polluter. The report is grounded in the need to address systemic inequalities, human rights, and gender equality. It includes measures to swiftly end the fossil fuel era and equitably achieve emissions reductions, to justly transition the U.S. to be powered by 100% renewable and clean energy, to ensure the resilience of impacted communities, and to provide climate finance for developing countries.

Climate Policy Priorities for the New Administration and Congress, by C2ES (Center for Climate and Energy Solutions 2021, 22 pages, free download available here)

The start of a new Administration and Congress provides a vital opportunity to dramatically scale up the U.S. response to climate change. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions has worked closely with leading companies to assess policy options for decarbonizing the U.S. economy. Drawing on these discussions, this policy brief recommends a comprehensive set of policy priorities to drive climate innovation, reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, remedy inequities and – in many cases – support the post-pandemic economic recovery. Taken together, these steps would establish the essential foundations of an ambitious, just, durable, bipartisan climate policy, putting the United States on the path toward carbon neutrality.

Gauging Economic Consensus on Climate Change, by Peter Howard and Derek Sylvan (Institute of Policy Integrity 2021, 64 pages, free download available here)

The Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law conducted a large-sample survey on climate economics, which was sent to all economists who have published climate-related research in the field’s highest-ranked academic journals. The results show an overwhelming consensus that the costs of inaction on climate change are higher than the costs of action, and that immediate, aggressive emissions reductions are economically desirable. Respondents expressed striking levels of concern about climate impacts; estimated major climate-related GDP losses and a reduction in long-term economic growth; and predicted that climate impacts will exacerbate economic inequality both between and within most countries.

Managing Climate Risk in the U.S. Financial System, by Climate-Related Risk Subcommitte (The Commodity Futures Trading Commission 2020, 196 pages, free download available here)

Managing Climate Risk in the U.S. Financial System is the first of-its-kind effort from a U.S. government entity. The result of a meeting that included representatives from more than 40 central banks and international financial organizations, the report presents 53 recommendations to mitigate the risks to financial markets posed by climate change. Climate change, the report concludes, poses a major risk to the stability of the U.S. financial system and to its ability to sustain the American economy. There, U.S. financial regulators must recognize that climate change poses serious emerging risks to the U.S. financial system, and they should move urgently and decisively to measure, understand, and address these risks. Financial innovation is required.

The Economic Costs of Climate Change: Lessons Learned from COVID-19, by Erik Peterson and Paul Laudicina (Kearney Global Business Council 2021, 43 pages, free download available here)

Three profound lessons can be drawn from the coronavirus pandemic for the ongoing climate crisis. First, the pandemic has thrown the spotlight on the capacity of the global population for behavioral change and adaptation in the face of severe exogenous shocks – as well as the limitations of that capacity. Second, the profound disruption caused by the pandemic underlines the need for constructive and timely international cooperation in confronting global challenges and their effects. And third, the crucial role of technology in driving forward solutions has become more apparent during the pandemic. Leaders will need to build on these lessons to confront looming environmental challenges.

Turning Climate Commitments into Results: Progress on State-Led Climate Action, by Drew Stilson, Pam Kiely, and Rama Zakaria (Environmental Defense Fund 2020, 74 pages, free download available here)

While the Trump administration carried out its unprecedented assault on environmental protections, many state leaders powerfully responded to the abdication of leadership and committed to greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets. The analysis presented here, however, shows that most of these states face critical gaps between their commitments and the reductions that will be delivered by current policies. Even as the federal government readies to pivot back to an active leadership role, state action remains as important as ever to secure emission reductions, both in the near-term and over the next decade, to give us a fighting chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change on our communities, economies, and ecosystems.

Seeds of Opportunity: How Rural America Is Reaping Economic Development Benefts from the Growth of Renewables, by Katie Siegner, Kevin Brehm, and Mark Dyson (Rocky Mountain Institute 2021, 74 pages, free download available, but registration required)

Despite a turbulent start to the 2020s, an important and positive message for rural America is emerging in the decade ahead: rural communities have a significant opportunity to strengthen and diversify their local economies by embracing and actively engaging in the ongoing renewable energy transition. This report quantifies the scale of the economic development opportunity from the growth of onshore wind and utility-scale solar projects in rural areas, and demonstrates what that means for communities through case studies of existing projects from three different regions. The report recommends ways local, state, and federal leaders can unlock the opportunity afforded by the ~ 600 GW of new wind and solar projected to be built by 2030.

Halfway to Zero: Progress Towards a Carbon-Free Power Sector, by Ryan Wiser et al (Berkeley Lab Electricity Markets & Policy 2021, 35 pages, free download available here)

Numerous challenges confront a zero-emissions pathway. Recent studies have assessed how to make further progress in decarbonizing the power sector on the pathway to decarbonizing the economy as a whole. We summarize the core results of those studies, highlighting the progress that has already been made in reducing power-sector emissions. As the country maps out a plan for further decarbonization, experience from the past 15 years offers two central lessons. First, policy and technology advancement are imperative to achieving significant emissions reductions. Second, our ability to predict the future is limited, and so it will be crucial to adapt as we gain policy experience and as technologies advance in unexpected ways.

Net Zero America: Potential Pathways, Infrastructure, and Impacts, by E. Larson et al (Princeton University 2020, 345 pages, free download available here)

This Net Zero America study aims to inform and ground political, business, and societal conversations regarding what it would take for the U.S. to achieve an economy-wide target of net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. Achieving this goal, i.e. building an economy that emits no more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than are permanently removed and stored each year, is essential to halt the buildup of climate-warming gases in the atmosphere and avert costly damages from climate change. A growing number of pledges are being made by major corporations, municipalities, states, and national governments to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner. This study provides granular guidance on what getting to net-zero really requires.

The Cost of Climate: America’s Growing Flood Risk, by Flood Lab Members and Partners (First Street Foundation 2021, 121 pages, free download available here)

Current understandings of expected flooding and its potential damage continue to underestimate the full extent of flood risk in many parts of the country. This is problematic as these understandings of flood risk are used to price insurance premiums in the market by estimating property-level average annual loss (AAL). This study applies the First Street Foundation Flood Model, a nationwide probabilistic property-level flood model, to an analysis of depth-damage functions from the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in order to estimate AAL for residential properties throughout the United States, today and into the climate-adjusted future. The results reveal a vastly expanded map of possible economic losses associated with flood risk.

Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful, by Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, NOAA, and White House Council on Environmental Quality  (U.S. Department of  the Interior 2021, 24 pages, free download available here)

President Biden has issued a call to action that we work together to conserve, connect, and restore 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030 for the sake of our economy, our health, and our well-being. “America the Beautiful” is a decade-long program to encourage locally-led efforts to conserve and restore the nation’s lands, waters, and wildlife upon which we all depend. This report outlines the key principles that will guide these efforts. The President’s goal of conserving 30 percent of America’s lands and waters is more than a number – it is a challenge to build on the nation’s best conservation traditions, to be faithful to principles that reflect the country’s values, and to improve the quality of Americans’ lives – now and for decades to come.

Michael Svoboda

Michael Svoboda, Ph.D., is a professor in the University Writing Program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he has taught since 2005. Before completing his interdisciplinary...