President Biden’s climate goals of getting the U.S. to completely clean electricity by 2035 and a net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050 are obviously correct and necessary. His appointments of John Kerry as his special world climate envoy and Gina McCarthy as the first White House national climate advisor are extremely welcome additions to our government. Rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement is necessary. However, a U.S. climate policy and rejoining the Paris Accords cannot adequately address the problem.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that 97 percent of the Paris climate pledges — to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees C and achieve net zero emissions between 2050 and 2100 — are insufficient to meet the Paris goals. Without an “all hands on deck” world-wide campaign, Planet Earth will be overwhelmed by the coming climate catastrophe. Too much is happening too quickly.
In 2020 the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere reached record levels, hitting 417 parts per million. The last time the Earth’s temperature exceeded 400 parts per million of CO2 was four million years ago, during the Pliocene era. At the rate we are going, by the end of the century CO2 levels will be 800ppm. The Earth hasn’t experienced those temperatures for 55 million years, a time when there was no ice on the planet.
The world’s leading climate scientists have warned that while there is still time, there are only about a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of more global pandemics, desertification, fresh-water shortages, droughts, floods, sea level rise, wildfires, extreme heat, poverty, and dislocation for hundreds of millions of people. Warming at the Paris climate goal of 2C, they say, will begin the collapse of our life-giving ecosystems. To adequately respond to this, the world must do such things as accelerate the pace of adopting renewable energy six times faster, phase out coal use for electricity five time faster, and accelerate the use of electric vehicles 22 times faster than current rates.
Slightly more than half of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from four nations: China produces the most emissions, the United States second most, India third most, and the Russian Federation fourth. Due to economic growth, China and India’s Paris reduction pledges (26.8 percent and 7 percent) will actually increase by 2030. Four years of Trumpism’s climate denial policies completely derailed the Obama administration’s pledge to reduce U.S. emissions by 26-28 percent by 2025. Russia has not even submitted a climate pledge.
President Biden should task Secretary Kerry and Gina McCarthy with creating an international campaign, initially aimed at the four leading greenhouse gas emitters. It should be designed to bring this generation’s environmental activists into coalition with past generation activists. The campaign should use the power of modern technology’s ability to unite masses of people in the fight, creating online advocacy organizations with specific campaign issues initially aimed at creating renewable energy and technologies. The Biden administration should reach out to, and enlist, Greta Thunberg and Vice President Al Gore, generational leaders, to participate. The administration should galvanize U.S. environmental organizations and task them with reaching out to their international counterparts to set up and staff the on-line advocacy campaigns.
We are in a race against a 2C temperature rise. Winning this race will take more than just demonstrations, reengaging with the Paris Accords, or U.S. legislation. It requires organizing a worldwide campaign focused initially on the specifics, in targeted nations, needed to ensure the transition to renewable energy and technologies. It’s going to take all of us to do this. It can’t just be left to politicians and/or commissions.
Modern technology has given us the tools to organize and participate in this kind of global campaign. President Biden’s election has created the leadership capable of organizing it.