The United States and world are facing a crisis of enormous magnitude if the global warming problem is not addressed properly. Every country in the world, except the current U.S. administration, supports the Paris climate agreement goal limiting the rise in global average surface temperature to 2°C (3.6°F). The consequences of failure could be a catastrophic future: Flooding from rising sea levels, more severe hurricanes/heat waves/wildfires, crop failures and droughts, and greater stress on an already aging infrastructure.
Climate scientists generally agree carbon emissions should be reduced to near zero by mid-century to avert catastrophic climate change. But the voluntary pledges of countries in the Paris agreement do not come close to meeting this objective. Countries are not even on track to meet their current pledges. In the U.S., the absence of federal leadership has led to a groundswell of non-national actors pledging to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While the current administration seeks to bolster fossil fuel production, the individual contributions of these state, local, and private actors will be aggregated and quantified by the America’s Pledge Initiative.
Each country needs a rigorous long-term strategic planning process and commitment to ensure compliance in the most cost-effective manner by mid-century. Private enterprise alone will not satisfactorily reduce emissions given that GHG pollution is currently free. The problem requires government regulation and investment as well as the implementation of multi-national policies that will enable the realization of a full clean-energy infrastructure in the relatively short time frame required. Such planning should seek to strengthen and accelerate existing momentum, and in the case of the U.S., facilitate re-engagement with, and rapid action by the federal government in the future.
Strategic planning is required in key sectors of the economy and at an overall level to ensure the GHG emissions reduction goals are being met. There needs to be a strategic plan in the electric power sector for a defined transition to renewable energy and storage from coal as well as a gradual reduction in natural gas power generation and new innovative strategies such as smart grid management. There should be a strategic plan in the transportation sector to replace gasoline/diesel vehicles with electric vehicles, including the service-station infrastructure to supply these vehicles. A future North American sustainable development agreement could promote trans-national renewable energy trade and integration policies to help facilitate these plans. A key feature of these programs is their requirement for the institution of carbon taxes to give consumers incentive to reduce emissions, potentially fund government investment in clean-energy, and provide income subsidies for low-income consumers to afford the higher costs of energy.