Combating Climate Change – Plan Offers Realistic, Effective Approach

By BOB STERN | Dec 04, 2019

We in the U.S. are presently responsible for about 14 percent of world greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Meeting the current international GHG goals to control world temperature rise would mean essentially no fossil fuel consumption in the U.S. The cost of this would be prohibitive and would damage our economy.

Other countries face the same situation and, as a result, no country is on a path to meet current goals. This is particularly true of the developing countries that are producing the greatest volume of GHG.

Temperatures continue to increase, ice caps are melting and sea level rise is accelerating.

The U.S. can become a leader in combating sea level rise only by adopting and proposing to others a realistic target of a 40 percent reduction in GHG emissions, which would still constrain sea level rise almost as well as current goals, and at much less cost. This level of reduction is achievable by continuing and expanding government support for improved efficiency in fossil fuel use, and for support of renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

Properly done, it would create jobs in our economy, improve the competitiveness of our industry, and put pressure on other countries to comply with the same, realistic target crucial to success. The basis for this is described below.

For some time, the international community has stated a policy goal of limiting global temperature rise by 2100 to 2 degrees Centigrade (C), or 5.9 degrees Fahrenheit. The GHG emission reductions required to do that, which have been known for over 30 years, are about 60 percent by 2050 and 95 percent by 2080 compared to 2010 levels, and also require compensating for future growth in total energy use.

Despite that goal, global GHG emissions are increasing, and we are headed toward a 2100 temperature rise of 3.3 degrees C and ultimately extreme sea level rise. Because the U.S. is one player among many, any ambitious U.S. effort by itself would still result in about a 3.2-degree rise that would only modestly delay, but not avoid, that extreme future sea level rise.

In the electric generation sector, that goal requires almost exclusive use of wind and solar power, and because of its intermittent nature, battery energy storage. Such battery storage is the primary reason for the multi-trillion-dollar costs heard. It would cost over $1,000 per year for every person in the U.S. to put in place.

With today’s best battery technology in place, delivered electric rates would be increased by 66 to 100 percent, depending on the renewable electric energy sources used. It also raises questions of national security regarding lithium supply from other countries to build and maintain enormous numbers of such batteries.

Such reductions are so difficult, costly or politically impractical that no country is on a path to achieve them. In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Agency, taking into account solid Paris Accord commitments, predicts increasing global GHG emissions. Increases from 2010 to 2050 from China, India and the Middle East alone would negate all of an ambitious U.S. emission reduction. Other projections out to 2100 show that emissions then would be no lower than they were in 2010.

Some are now suggesting a more ambitious goal to reduce GHG emissions to net zero by mid-century instead of 2080. Based on the last 25 years of international experience with the global warming problem, there is no plausible reason to believe that such a goal will be embraced by other countries.

Recent long-term sea level rise predictions in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, Chapter 13, provide the opportunity to create a new, realistic and still effective objective. That report shows the expected sea level rise for various future years versus the temperature rise that could occur by 2100. The curves in one chart show a small increase in sea level rise at 2.5 degrees C compared to 2 degrees.

Above 2.5 degrees, however, sea level rise becomes unmanageable and will eventually result in extraordinary human dislocation and trillions of dollars of real property and infrastructure loss from coastal inundation. These trends provide a compelling case to make to other countries that it is in all our interest not to exceed 2.5 degrees.

Meeting a 2.5-degree limit requires a lower emission reduction and costs much less. The GHG emission reduction required to achieve 2.5 degrees is about 40 percent relative to 2010 levels. That can be done with existing technology, land use practices and economic tools at far less cost – for the U.S, about $200 billion or about $25 per person per year. That is less than 5 percent of the cost of recent multi-trillion-dollar proposals. Electric rates would remain stable.

In that regard, if all the targets in the Paris Accord were implemented, a limit of 2.7 degrees by 2100 could be met. So while 2.5 degrees requires additional effort, its attainment is plausible.

To conclude, using a 40 percent emission reduction as an interim objective offers real hope for global progress. It constrains future sea level rise, avoiding trillions of dollars of future coastal real property and infrastructure loss, and can be done with modest cost. It provides a powerful benefit to pitch to other countries to get their crucial buy-in. If technology advances on battery storage, further reductions could be pursued later.

This plan’s lower cost for emission reduction opens the way to more funding for research, flood insurance and shoreline protection measures, and for bipartisan support to assure steady progress over a long term. Leading with an extreme GHG emission reduction proposal, while sounding attractive, will very likely be, as it has been, rejected internationally and actually dooms the global effort to failure.

A realistic time frame to achieve a 40 percent reduction should be determined and then governments should focus on such an effort. With a realistic goal and time frame, it is then feasible to propose a change in the United Nations framework for addressing the problem. That would require not allowing each country to set its own goal, but rather require every country to meet the 40 percent reduction by a specified date.

That can be done with its own reduction measures and/or by purchasing emission credits from another country that exceeds the 40 percent reduction. Failure to meet specified benchmarks toward the 40 percent reduction would be met with penalties. Exceptions would be granted only under cases of demonstrated extreme economic hardship. Under such a framework, the U.S. would, of course, meet or exceed the 40 percent requirement.

A more detailed PowerPoint presentation on this proposal is available. For further information, contact me at or 917-952-5016. The Democratic Club of Long Beach Island has sent this proposal to other state organizations, and to the national party, to foster debate about effective and affordable climate change strategies. The paper is available on our website. A summarized version will be prepared to foster that public debate. Readers are encouraged to press those presenting various climate change ideas on the issues raised here.

Bob Stern is vice president of the Long Beach Island Democratic Club. He holds a doctorate degree in applied mathematics and aeronautical engineering, and previously managed an office in the U.S. Department of Energy that assessed energy options and their environmental impacts.



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