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With the current climate crisis, Evanstonians can feel proud of our Climate Action and Resilience Plan and our bold commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050.
We are not alone in taking local action. Nearly 150 U.S. cities have committed to transition to clean renewable energy by 2050.
These local commitments are critical in light of the 2018 report by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report warns that if global warming exceeds 1.5°C, climate risks will increase in magnitude and could set in motion irreversible changes like polar ice sheet collapse and the loss of all coral reefs. Such alterations would result in devastating consequences for humans and all other life on Earth.
What will it take to stay below this 1.5°C threshold? According to the IPCC report, we need to cut global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at least 40% by 2030 and near 100% by 2050.
The climate scientists who wrote the IPCC report state that policies putting a high price on carbon provide the best opportunity to achieve these emissions reductions. Carbon pricing is also the solution recommended by economists as the best first step to mitigating the climate crisis.
The good news is that there are already a number of carbon pricing bills under consideration in Congress. These bills vary in design and benefits. In this article we have focused on the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (more simply known as the Energy Innovation Act), which has the largest number of bill cosponsors as well as the broadest grassroots support. Its high price on carbon would cut emissions 50% by 2034, a level consistent with the IPCC recommendation for staying below 1.5°C. It will also create more than 2 million new jobs and save thousands of lives due to improved air quality.
As of Nov. 1, the Energy Innovation Act had 68 co-sponsors, including Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-9th District). She is a climate champion who understands the urgency of this issue and we are fortunate to have her represent our district.
How Does Carbon Pricing Work?
Carbon pricing policies fall into two categories. One approach is cap and trade, where a limit is set on carbon emissions and allowances are sold, giving market participants such as power plants the right to pollute up to this limit. Participants can buy and sell (i.e. trade) these allowances as needed with supply and demand setting the price. Because the quantity of pollution allowances decreases each year, emissions reduce over time. California and a group of states in the Northeast currently use a cap and trade system.
A simpler and more comprehensive approach for national climate policy is to assess a tax or fee on carbon emissions. Most of the carbon pricing bills currently under consideration in Congress, including the Energy Innovation Act, involve a carbon tax.
Why Does Bipartisan Support Matter?
The Energy Innovation Act is the first bipartisan climate bill to be introduced in Congress in 10 years. A bipartisan approach is essential, because passing legislation through our divided Congress will require buy-in from both sides of the aisle.
Regardless of which party controls the Senate and the White House after future elections, political winds can always shift, but bills passed with broad support will withstand those shifts.
A recent CBS News poll found that two-thirds of Americans view climate change as a crisis or serious problem, and a majority want immediate action. Overwhelming majorities of younger GOP voters regard climate change as a serious threat too: 77% of them said so in a survey by Ipsos and Newsy this fall. The Energy Innovation Act offers promising common ground.
Can Climate Policy in the U.S. Influence Countries Around the World?
While the Energy Innovation Act can put the U.S. on track to reduce carbon emissions in line with IPCC recommendations, what is happening in the rest of the world? The Climate Action Tracker, which monitors the progress of countries in meeting the Paris Accord goals, found that most major polluters, including the U.S., are making little progress to meet their goals and that global carbon emissions actually increased in 2017 and 2018.
Here is where the border adjustment comes in. Its intent is to protect the trade competitiveness of U.S. businesses in the global marketplace. But, as a side benefit, it can encourage foreign countries to adopt their own carbon fee so they would get the money instead of us.
As we count down to 2030, people around the globe are working to address the climate crisis in ways both small and large.
Paul Hawken, founder of Project Drawdown, identifies carbon pricing as the single most impactful policy that would accelerate the adoption of the top 100 technological, ecological, and behavioral solutions to climate identified in their research. It is certainly no small challenge to pass the Energy Innovation Act, and we all can help.
What Can You Do Now?
Contact your members of Congress to support the Energy Innovation Act. The bill (H.R. 763) is currently in committee in the House. Thank Rep. Schakowsky for co-sponsoring the bill and let her know its passage is important to you.
Ask Illinois Senators Tammy Duckworth and Richard Durbin to reach across the aisle to Republican colleagues to support the bill when it is introduced in the Senate. (Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) awaits a Republican co-sponsor in order to introduce the bill.)
Join Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a non-partisan, volunteer-driven organization that has worked for the last 12 years to build the political will to pass a fair and effective price on carbon.
These efforts have led to the introduction of the Energy Innovation Act. We have more than 400 chapters in the U.S., including one in Evanston, and nearly 100 additional chapters around the world.
Evanston has taken a major step toward addressing climate change with our Climate Action and Resilience Plan. National legislation would ensure that other communities across the country will join us. We can’t afford to leave any city, state, or country behind. It will take the planet to save our planet.
Ms. Muller and Ms. Winston are Citizens’ Climate Lobby Evanston chapter co-leaders. They can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org