Advice on climate policy for the 2020 presidential candidates – Henry Jacoby, Richard Richels, and Gary Yohe

Henry D. Jacoby, Professor Emeritus, MIT Sloan School of Management

Gary Yohe, Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Wesleyan University

Richard Richels, directed climate change research at the Electric Power Research Institute.

From The Hill

The Paris Agreement, with its goal of halting global warming short of 2 degree Celsius, conjures up an image of a temperature threshold which we dare not exceed, akin to Thelma and Louise knowingly and recklessly driving over a cliff to their ruin.

For that hapless couple, there may have been a sudden abyss that they chose to breach. But in the case of global warming, a better metaphor might be that of the can that gets kicked down a road that becomes increasingly treacherous with every mile travelled. Due to our past reluctance to apply the brakes, the can is now farther down the road, and it is going faster than we realize.

The science is clear. When we include the pent-up momentum of the climate system, we have already committed to warming of at least 1.5 degree C. Moreover, with the additional heating that will occur as we reduce emissions to zero, a 2-degree limit is also in doubt.

Have no illusions. The case for coordinated action both nationally and internationally is compelling, even if the articulated temperature targets turn out to be only aspirational. The intensity of the wildfires in the West, the unrelenting flooding in the midsection of the country and the fury of hurricanes striking our coastlines are but a preview of what’s to come—just like the recognition of increases in the frequency of heatwaves and the severity of droughts.

It doesn’t take a genius to see the absurdity of inaction in the face of these risks. Continuing to kick the can down the road will place an intolerable burden on future generations.

But all the news is not bad. Recent polls suggest that we may be entering a new era of public concern over climate change. The number of Americans witnessing the growing destruction has risen. Many see it out of their kitchen windows; all observe it on the evening news.

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Don’t let the ‘Green New Deal’ hijack the climate’s future – Henry Jacoby, Gary Yohe, Richard Richels

MIT Sloan Professor Emeritus, Henry D. Jacoby

From Hartford Courant

The Green New Deal calls for the country to meet a number of ambitious environmental targets while solving a host of other ills facing our country. Its near-term environmental goals, authored primarily by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., include “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable and zero-emissions energy sources,” “building or upgrading energy-efficient, distributed and ‘smart’ power grids.” “working to ensure affordable access to electricity” and “overhauling transportation systems in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions … as much as technologically feasible.”

These goals are aspirational, but they are all issues that are worthy of serious and urgent consideration.

It is likely that the authors of the resolution and its co-sponsors thought that yoking climate change to their larger agenda would start conversations. But this version of the Green New Deal will impede continued progress on the climate front for years to come.

Does one have to support and defend all of the goals of the Green New Deal to push forward on climate change? If the answer is yes, then past experience teaches that political manipulation will doom climate change to artificial partisan firefights for years to come.

Around the turn of 2019, climate change had become a rising star in the national political galaxy. The connection of recent catastrophic wildfires to increased temperatures had become clearer. So had the link between warming temperatures and changing atmospheric currents to more severe hurricanes. The link to sea level rise had been solidified. Assessments released late last year brought attention to climate risks in 2030 — not 2100. Candidates for Congress had run on platforms that highlighted climate change as an existential issue — and won. Media coverage had begun to report that climate change would likely to play a significant role in the 2020 presidential campaign.

But now, we see calls for climate policy lumped together with calls for universal education, universal high-quality health care, guaranteed affordable and adequate housing, economic security and access to healthy and affordable food. Opponents can now label the entire collection of worthy social objectives as modern “socialism.”

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Why the next two years are critical for the Paris climate deal’s survival – Henry D. Jacoby

MIT Sloan Professor Emeritus, Henry D. Jacoby

From The Conversation

A mounting sense of urgency will greet negotiators as they arrive at this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference.  In Poland. In 2015, after 20 years of trying and failing to reach a global accord on climate-changing emissions, 195 nations hammered out a deal, the Paris Agreement, that all of them could accept.

Three years on, it’s becoming increasingly clear that national decisions about climate action, which country negotiators will convey in Poland and over the next two years, will determine whether the breakthrough Paris pact succeeds both on a political and emissions reduction front.

As scholars at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, we have closely followed the global climate change agreements and studied their implications. Based on our analysis of nations’ commitments to cut emissions, getting the world on track to achieve the agreement’s signature goal – to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius – will require far more ambitious climate action than what countries have pledged so far. This action must begin sooner rather than later to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, from severe droughts to extreme flooding.

Climate change won’t wait for humanity’s response

Climate change is the type of problem where delay is especially costly. It is not like other pollution such as dirty urban air or a putrid stream. For these, people might clean up a polluted area this year, but if they put off the task, there will probably still be the same opportunity to get it done the following year.

Not so with greenhouse gases, which hang around for decades to centuries. So if societies delay revising our current practices – burning fossil fuels, chopping down forests, planting more polluting crops like rice, as well as raising cows – the total amount in the atmosphere will grow. The goals for limiting global warming will get steadily more difficult to achieve.

In addition, as the nations’ representatives gather in Poland to pursue their effort to gain control of this process, a crucial decision point is rapidly approaching.

Brutal timing

In the Paris Agreement, each nation is to make a pledge (what the agreement calls a Nationally Determined Contribution) to achieve a level of emissions control by a target date. For most countries this is the year 2030. They will also submit to a review of whether they did what they said they would do every two years.

Our analysis shows that, fortunately, meeting these Paris pledges will halt emissions growth at least to 2030, though without additional action growth will resume thereafter. This voluntary system of pledge and review represents real progress on this difficult issue. Experts in international affairs argue that it is perhaps the best deal possible for a 195-nation agreement.

Read the full post from The Conversation.

Henry D. Jacoby is the William F. Pounds Professor of Management, Emeritus in the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management and former Co-Director of the M.I.T. Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.