This is The Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.
What a week it has been on the climate front. The United States saw the swearing in of a new presidential administration, one with the most ambitious and comprehensive plan for combating climate change in US history. And we’re not talking baby steps. President Biden’s climate agenda looks to reshape major facets of daily life, from transportation to clean energy to the job market.
Biden isn’t wasting any time. On his first afternoon in office, following an inauguration ceremony that included Lady Gaga belting out the National Anthem and 22-year-old Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman bringing the live and digital crowd to its knees with one of the most profoundly epic poetic performances of the past century, Biden walked to the White House and signed the US back into the Paris Climate Agreement. A quick refresher: The US pledged to reduce emissions to 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 when it originally signed onto the 2015 agreement.
Also yesterday, the new president put a permanent halt to the Keystone XL pipeline. He revoked the permit allowing for the doomed pipeline’s construction, which upon completion would have carried 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico. Other immediate actions included the reinstating of more than 100 Trump administration environmental rollbacks — such as tightening regulations for emissions of methane, a gas that traps more heat than carbon.
To be sure, executive orders aren’t themselves going to put the US where it needs to be on sustainability. Biden’s team will need congressional support across aisles. Biden took the Oath of Office pledging unity, and while climate action has certainly not been a unifying topic in the past, it could take a step toward bringing liberals and conservatives together during this administration. Biden’s pick for treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, is a staunch supporter of enacting a carbon tax.
While conservatives tend to shy away from anything including the word “tax,” this one is different because it only taxes businesses as they emit pollution. It works like this: Carbon caps are set on companies and/or industries, and when they exceed those emissions, they pay a fee — the “tax” — with the hope being that a looming financial burden will motivate high-emitting industries to keep their emissions in check.
Essentially, a carbon tax would tax businesses on their carbon emissions with or without environmental regulation, and without set fines and laws spread to all businesses or any individual citizens, which is why pro-climate conservatives and big businesses are more likely to support it. Both Shell and ExxonMobil have expressed support for some form of a carbon tax, for example.
“I do see Republican support, and not only Democrat support, for an approach that would involve a carbon tax with redistribution. It’s not politically impossible,” Yellen said to Reuters in October 2020.
Yellen’s support is outlined in a Bipartisan Climate Roadmap that calls for a $40 tax per metric ton of carbon emissions. That fee would increase by 5 percent every year after enactment, which, according to the roadmap, would cut US carbon emissions 50 percent by 2035 if it came online this year.
A carbon tax could hasten the country’s transition to renewable energy and away from internal combustion engines, if implemented in a way that held companies accountable for emissions produced by the products they made or services they provided. Much like Biden’s executive orders, a climate tax on its own isn’t going to solve the climate crisis — but, in pursuing bipartisan unity, it’s a solid green start.
More climate wins
Investment in solar in Africa is on the rise, according to a report in Quartz. Solar power funding, including to both solar companies and companies working on “solar power ecosystems,” accounted for the second-highest total of investment by industry across the entire continent in 2020.
Des Moines, Iowa, pledged to be run on 100 percent clean energy, 24/7, by 2035, according to a report in Utility Dive. Based on Google’s round-the-clock energy plan, the city will glean all of its energy from renewable sources within 15 years (it’s 83 percent of the way there, already).
We close this week with another firm rebuke of the Trump administration’s anti-climate policies. An appellate court rejected the EPA’s recent attempt to rollback Obama-era limits on carbon pollution from power plants. The Clean Power Plan, the brainchild of incoming climate czar Gina McCarthy, will live on, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.