The Natural Resources Defense Council released an ambitious blueprint to dramatically increase energy efficiency, cut greenhouse gas pollution 80% from 1990 levels, raise wind and solar power generation to 70%, and usher in a clean energy future for the United States by 2050 — and it delivers benefits seven times the cost.
The heavily researched report, “America’s Clean Energy Frontier: The Pathway to Safer Climate Future,” relies on existing technologies and envisions curtailing energy use 50% through efficiency and electrification gains; raising fuel economy of gasoline-powered cars to 80 miles per gallon (and 100 mpg for fleetwide); expanding wind and solar energy 13-fold; strengthening the electricity grid; electrifying buildings and cars to run with renewable energy; and a steep decline in nuclear power by 2050 through plant retirements.
NRDC’s analysis breaks new ground compared to other comparable reports. It combines more aggressive, but achievable, improvements in energy efficiency, renewable energy, clean electrification and the nation’s electric grid. It relies far less on riskier or costlier technologies such as new nuclear energy, natural gas, and biomass.
“Across our country, climate-fueled hazard and harm is getting worse every day. The inescapable fact is we must fight climate change to protect people from even greater suffering tomorrow,” said NRDC President Rhea Suh. “Our pathway report offers a far-reaching, realistic and low-cost solution for how we, as Americans, can reach a safer climate future.
“This call to arms seeks nothing less than a clean energy revolution—in energy efficiency, renewable wind and solar power, clean cars and the nation’s electric grid—to shield our kids and future generations from climate chaos. That’s unquestionably a goal that can unite us. And when have Americans ever shied away from revolution?”
NRDC’s pathway plan also:
- Saves consumers money on energy bills at home and at the pump. It curbs energy consumption about 50%, largely achieved by substantial energy efficiency improvements for buildings, factories, appliances, and vehicles.
- Leads to an aggressive but achievable expansion of renewable energy. It increases to at least 80% the amount of electricity the nation gets from renewable sources such as wind and solar, geothermal and hydropower. It shows that we can get at least that far, and we may be able to get even further.
- Primes clean energy industry to rapidly build on nearly 3 million current jobs. Expanding renewable power and energy efficiency will put many Americans to work installing the clean power systems to protect our future.
- Envisions a transportation transformation. For automobiles, America could see a fleet of super-clean vehicles powered by clean electricity, plus at least a 25% reduction in the miles driven in the nation. The plan foresees raising the average fuel economy of the nation’s gasoline-powered vehicles to an average of 80 miles per gallon by 2050, rising to 100 mpg if you count the fuel equivalency of electric vehicles.
NRDC’s pathway results in just a 1% increase in U.S. energy costs from now until through 2050. That translates to average annual costs of $22 billion to yield more than $154 billion each year in health and environmental benefits – in avoided extreme weather, heat waves, and climate-induced illnesses. By 2050, the final year modeled, this plan costs less than the business as a usual alternative. Adding benefits from less smog and non-greenhouse gas pollutants would yield even more health dividends.
NRDC released its report in a telephone press conference and during Climate Week in New York City, one of the key summits driving climate change solutions forward, on an international level, since 2009.
In 2015, more than 190 countries came together and approved the landmark Paris climate agreement. Ratified in 2016, the Paris agreement commits countries to collectively work to limit global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius—and aim toward a 1.5 degree-limit—which is needed to avoid severe climate damages.
NRDC teamed with the internationally recognized Energy + Environmental Economics consulting firm and determined America could curb greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050—required to reach the goal of holding global warming to a 2-degree increase—largely by substantial increases in clean energy.
Furthermore, the report notes that major contributions to curbing climate change can be made, and are being accomplished, from multiple actions at the city, regional and state levels, as well as by businesses, communities, and individual citizens.
Even so, the report contends, a national economy-wide approach—like the now-stalled federal Clean Power Plan that cuts power plant carbon pollution—will be needed for ultimate success in warding off severe climate damages.
The report makes several dozen recommendations, including these overarching ones:
- Policymakers should: accelerate and expand proven clean energy technologies, such as wind and solar power systems, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles and heat pumps.
- The federal government should: move ahead on a bipartisan basis to support stronger energy efficiency standards, tax incentives, and energy innovation research and development.
- States should: continue to support and expand renewable energy and energy efficiency portfolio standards that set goals for clean energy deployment.
- Cities should: implement policies that support local sustainability actions and scale up clean energy and energy efficiency.
- Businesses should: work to reduce their greenhouse gas footprints and invest in clean energy.
- Individual Americans and communities can: implement energy efficiency measures in their homes and offices, work with non-profits supporting clean energy and help hold elected officials accountable so they will support clean energy advances.
- The U.S. also should: continue work to reduce other pollution contributing to climate change, such as methane and hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs.
“The world is telling us in every way possible that it’s time to cut the fossil fuel pollution driving climate change and threatening our future. We have the solutions in hand, as NRDC’s report shows. But if we fail to act, we will doom our children and future generations to a world of deadly and dangerous climate impacts,” said Roland Hwang, director of NRDC’s Energy and Transportation program. “That cannot happen. We have an obligation to leave them a healthy and stable world.”
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