The IPCC says we need to phase down fossil fuels, fast. Here’s how the US could do it.

March 28, 2023

On Monday, a panel of the world’s top climate scientists released a grave warning: Current policies are not enough to stave off the most devastating consequences of climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, climate pollution from the world’s existing coal, oil, and gas projects is already enough to launch the planet past 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming, and world leaders must abandon up to $4 trillion in fossil fuels and related infrastructure by midcentury if they want to keep within safe temperature limits.

“The IPCC shows that restrictive supply-side measures have to be part of the policy mix,”  said Mark Paul, a Rutgers University professor and a coauthor of the report. “We actually need to stop extracting and burning fossil fuels, there’s just no way around it.”

Some of the most aggressive policies recommended in the new report would use congressional authority to stop new fossil fuel projects, whether by banning new leases for extraction on federal lands and in federal waters or by outlawing all new pipelines, export terminals, gas stations, and other infrastructure nationwide. Other measures would use economic levers to restrict fossil fuel development. For example, taxing the fossil fuel industry’s windfall profits could curtail supply by making oil and gas production less profitable. Requiring publicly traded companies to disclose their climate-related financial risks could also accelerate decarbonization by making polluters without credible transition plans unattractive to investors.

The benefit of these policies, Paul said, is that they can directly constrain carbon-intensive activities and therefore more certainly guarantee a reduction in climate pollution. That’s not the case with demand-side policies, where lawmakers have to hope that consumers’ behavior will lead to less fossil fuel being produced and burned. (The Inflation Reduction Act included some of these policies, like consumer subsidies for electric vehicles and other low-emissions technologies.)

Paul said it’s hard to imagine any of the policies being enacted while the House of Representatives is under Republican leadership, but he highlighted the climate-related financial risk disclosure policy as a candidate for bipartisan support, since it seeks to inform action from investors. “Even the staunchest capitalist should be on board with this,” he said. Outside of Congress, the Securities and Exchange Commission, an independent federal agency that protects investors from financial fraud and manipulation, has proposed such a policy.

Subnational “fossil-free zones” — areas that are off-limits to some or all types of fossil fuel development, like oil and gas drillinggas stations, or export terminals — could be promising too; they’ve already been declared in many communities, and they demonstrate how combined demand- and supply-side interventions could play a role in a more comprehensive fossil fuel phaseout.

To gain momentum for restrictive supply-side policies, Paul said it’s crucial to educate policymakers about “the actual math” behind U.S. and international climate goals. Investments in clean energy are a good start, Paul said, but they’re just “the first bite out of the apple. We need many more bites to limit emissions and preserve some semblance of a habitable planet.”, March 24, 2023

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