America’s Zero Carbon Action Plan

America’s Zero Carbon Action Plan (Jeffrey Sachs and Elena Crete, Sustainable Development Solutions Network, November 2020, 382p)

Approximately 100 experts developed this richly illustrated plan intended to promote the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) and the Paris Agreement.

Deep transformation of six economic sectors

These activities account for almost all CO2 emissions, and most emissions of other greenhouse gases:

  1. Power accounts for around 32 percent of total CO2 emission(2019). A shift away toward wind and solar energy is recommended with nuclear and hydropower supplementing the mix. To maintain electricity system reliability, gas-fired power generators needs remain in place in 2050, at roughly today’s level of capacity.  With wind and solar power are already at or near grid parity with coal-fired and gas-fired power generation the costs of the green transformation of the power sector are small.
  2. Transport includes light-duty vehicles, heavy-duty vehicles (trucks), off- road vehicles, buses, rail, shipping, and aviation. Transportation emissions accounted for 37 percent of total CO2 emissions. The electrification of transport (including battery, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel cells) is the primary strategy explored. Advanced low-carbon biofuels and synthetic carbon-based liquids or gases produced with renewable energy are the leading energy contenders for improvements in long-haul aviation and ocean shipping.
  3. Buildings, residential and commercial, account for 12 percent of direct CO2 emissions. this rises to 32 percent when the building share of electricity emissions are taken into account.  The proposed National Energy Code for Buildings (NECB) for construction after 2025 should require that (a) fossil fuels not be burned onsite, (b) be highly energy efficient, and (c) be constructed using low-carbon techniques and materials. 5 percent of the national Research, Development, Demonstration and Deployment (RDD&D) budget should be committed to advanced building technologies, building science, and building policies. These investments should be paired with a national manufacturing policy to ensure that a large percentage of green building products are manufactured domestically. Federal government building should be retrofitted, and the Federal Government should provide financial resources via grants to states, counties, and cities, for extensive building retrofits via its ability to leverage tax policy and mortgage underwriting criteria to encourage low-carbon buildings.
  4. Industry accounts for 20 percent of CO2 emissions with a large share deriving from light industries such as manufacturing of durable goods, food and textile processing, and some mining and non-ferrous metal production. Efficiency improvements, electrification, and decarbonization of electricity generation could cut emission from these sectors. Other industries – such as iron and steel, cement, and feedstock chemicals — can utilize carbon capture and storage (CCS) at industrial facilities, hydrogen, supplementary materials and fillers, and other synthetic fuel replacements and substitutions.
  5. Non-urban land use choices such as the siting of renewable energy, next generation biofuels, reforestation, soil carbon, and emissions from agriculture and livestock all effect emissions from this sector necessitating improved inter-agency planning and enhanced cooperation of all levels of government with each other and with impacted communities.
  6. Materials and food consumption (including entire materials supply chain, from manufacturing, transportation and usage, to final disposition of materials) have a very negative climate impact on emissions.  Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) and the deep incorporation of Circular Economy (CE) thinking would help to reduce pollution, drive job creation, spur energy efficiency, and lower GHG emissions. Incorporate SMM and CE objectives into federal policies and free-trade agreements and the work of international organizations.

Specific recommendations at the Federal level

  • Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and establish a new and stronger Nationally Determined Contribution for U.S. greenhouse gas emissions – including the goal of net- zero or net-negative anthropogenic GHG emissions by 2050 and an updated interim goal for 2030.
  • Adopt a Zero Carbon Action Plan by legislation committing the nation to net-zero GHG emissions by no later than 2050.
  • Require a Presidential report to Congress in January 2022 that provides a detailed roadmap to  carbon neutrality by 2050.
  • Direct the Departments of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Transportation, and other relevant agencies to translate the Zero Carbon Action Plan into intermediate and sector-specific emissions reduction goals and timelines.
  • Establish a White House Office on Climate Change.
  • Provide funding for the first four years of the ZCAP at a minimum of $2 trillion.
  • Enact a national clean energy standard for electricity to reduce emissions.
  • Accelerate the transition to electric cars, trucks, buses, and other vehicles through the implementation of new vehicle performance standards, expansion of the incentives for zero-emissions vehicle purchases, and investments in electric vehicle charging station infrastructure.
  • Establish a mechanism by which states, territories, and tribes specify how they will achieve their specific Zero Carbon Action Plan milestones.
  • Make sure that the principle that environmental and jobs benefits of the energy transition will be shared equitably in terms of geography, race, gender, and ethnicity.
  • Invest directly in inter-state power transmission, public land use for power generation, and supporting infrastructure.
  • Launch innovative green financing mechanisms, such as government guarantees for green bonds, tax incentives on utility bonds for renewable energy, direct equity, and funding of state-level green banks.
  • Promulgate new Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reporting requirements that require disclosure of climate-change-related risks and broader Environmental/ Social/Governance impacts.
  • Accelerate, intensify, and fully fund research and development for zero-greenhouse-gas emitting technologies, energy efficiency technologies, and carbon removal technologies.
  • Clarify the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirement that all federal action should be undertaken with an eye toward environmental impacts.
  • Each federal agency should exercise its existing powers and duties to contribute to the fullest possible extent to the achievement of the Zero Carbon Action Plan
  • Specify a Social Cost of Carbon to guide policy formulation and regulatory decision-making as well as to serve as the basis for market mechanisms such as clean-energy subsidies, carbon taxes, feed-in tariffs and auctions, and other market- based instruments



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