New studies prove how badly the US climate change plan is needed

From ToxicLeaks

While the US Clean Power Plan (CPP) is currently frozen by a Supreme Court stay, new studies are proving just how paramount the reduction of carbon emissions is. These cuts would save hundreds of thousands of lives according to one paper by scholars from Duke University and NASA. Another study co-authored by Joeri Rogelj from the International Institute for Applied Analysis, Austria, indicates that our available carbon budget is probably much lower than expected. These new discoveries highlight the complete irresponsibility of corporate and partisan opponents to the climate plan. They are protecting short-term economic and political gain but are driving us all of the cliff in the process.

A plan critical to reduce American emissions and to get other countries to reduce their own[edit | edit source]

Obama's CPP was revealed to the public in August 2015. Its aim was to reduce US carbon emissions by 26 to 28 % below 2005 levels by 2025. To achieve that goal, the main target was to decrease electricity generation from coal-fired power plants. As coal is the most polluting fuel that can generate electricity, the plan entailed a 32% reduction of emissions from coal-fired power plants from 2005 levels by 2030. The plan also entails a development of renewables, to produce clean electricity and compensate the decrease of the use of coal. Obama stressed that policymakers had a “moral obligation” to prevent climate change. "I don't want my grand kids not to be able to swim in Hawaii or not to be able to climb a mountain and see a glacier because we didn't do something about it," Obama explained. "I don't want millions of people's lives disrupted and this world more dangerous because we didn't do something about it. That would be shameful of us."

This move to reduce American emissions was very important because the United States are one of the world's biggest carbon emitters. But it was also crucial to help the climate negotiation at the Paris COP21 in December 2015. While this plan may not be sufficient to reduce the emissions fast enough, it's still a first step and it was critical to convince other countries to reduce their own carbon emissions. This enables the assembly of countries represented in Paris to accept a common target : stop global warming at 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures. And the negotiation succeeded in creating an agreement that should limit global warming, if all signatories honor it. This is proving to be the whole problem. Apparently corporate and political opponents of climate change mitigation don't care that the United States gave its word that it would do its utmost to reduce its emissions. And they are ruthlessly trying to kill the CPP before it can do anything to help fight climate change.

A plan in danger of being overturned by fossil-fuel lobbies[edit | edit source]

That's how a legal battle started to prevent implementation of the CPP or at least stall it until the next presidential election. One of the fiercest opponents to the plan is unsurprisingly the National Mining Association (NMA) that defends the interests of the mining industry but also various corporations from a very wide range of sectors that have a connection to fossil-fuels, such as ArcelorMittal, Rio Tinto or Siemens. This lobby has always fought clean energy and carbon emission related policies. Between 1997 and 2012, the NMA has spent $40 million on lobbying to resist regulations that could have affected the profits of its members. And the CPP is no exception. The NMA sued the EPA on the grounds that it did not have to authority to impose this policy to the states. And to support its claim it released an amazingly dishonest “study” supposed to estimate the cost of the implementation of the CPP.

This study was not conducted by scientists or economists but by a company of consultants called Energy Ventures Analysis. And their study has been torn apart by much more qualified specialists, such as Mike Jacobs, from the Union of Concerned Scientists. He points out that the “study” failed to include any assessments of the economic gains that would stem from the CPP. Furthermore, the “study” downplays the potential of renewable energy in many states, thus anticipating a low electricity supply when, the truth is, renewable energies will thrive and be more than enough to replace the electricity generated today by the coal plants that will be shut down. Mike Jacobs sums it up : “This latest EVA study offers flaws and misinformation. An honest reader should be able to spot the flaws.” The problem is that 29 states, mainly Republican, have also challenged the CPP, in a clearly politician move. This had led the Supreme Court on February 9 to stay the implementation of the CPP until the accusers can make their case before the Washington DC circuit court of appeals. This was seen as a major victory for the NMA and the Republicans who led the charge. But in their lust for corporate or politician short-term profit they are forgetting what is at stake. Keeping the climate from going haywire. And two studies prove yet again how urgent it is to act quickly and decisively.

A study proves that reaching Paris Agreement target might save 300,000 lives[edit | edit source]

Indeed, every year that greenhouse gas emissions are left unchecked, they are literally killing thousands of people. A paper by scholars of Duke University and NASA has estimated that if the US fulfills the pledge it made in the Paris COP21, it could help prevent 295,000 untimely deaths. Indeed, there are currently 200,000 people that die before the should every year in the US, because of air quality. The main causes of air pollution related deaths are lung cancer, heart attacks or respiratory diseases. “If we continue on the current high trajectory of emissions we’ll continue to have a large number of pollution-caused deaths,” explains Professor Drew Shindell, who led the research. “Climate change doesn’t feel immediate unless you have the kind of smog you have in China right now but the health benefits would happen right away if we acted. And they’d happen right here in the US.”

However, in order to save these almost 300,000 lives, the environmental policies would have to be even more ambitious than the CPP. Drew Shrindell and his team calculated that it will take a 40 % reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to honour the COP21 pledge, that's more than the 26 to 28 % cut the CPP aims at. But if that goal is met, it would mean that hundreds of thousands of lives will be lengthened. And the economic gains of such an improvement would be incredible. The study estimates that the country would save $800 billion because of lessened health expenditures, increased consumption and the development of new clean energy sectors. This is why the NMA's lawsuit is based on lies. They are so short-sighted and focused on short-term profit that they can't see that the energy transition is actually a great economic opportunity. More importantly, they are utterly unmoved by the fact that energies they promote are killing people by the thousands.

Another study highlights that the available carbon budget is probably only half what we thought[edit | edit source]

Apart from the fact that the energy transition could save thousands of lives, another study proved that if we are to stop global warming, we have to act now because our available carbon budget is actually only half what we thought it was. Dr Joeri Rogelj, the head of the study, explains the idea of “carbon budget” : “In order to have a reasonable chance of keeping global warming below 2C, we can only emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide, ever. That’s our carbon budget. This study shows that, in some cases, we have been overestimating the budget by 50 to more than 200%. At the high end, this is a difference of more than 1,000 billion tons of carbon dioxide.”

Whereas former studies estimated the range of possible emissions around 2,390 billion tons from 2015, Rogelj warns that the range could actually be only 1,240 billion tons. Which means that we probably will have to cut emissions twice as fast as we believed. Therefore any delay, such as the decision of the US Supreme Court, is just criminal because it will make stopping global warming before we reach the point of no return even more difficult. As we can see, the greed and petty politics behind the move to stall the CPP are incredibly irresponsible and could endanger the lives of every human being on the planet.