Solving Climate Change with Smart Policy
TNC is supporting policy makers in creating a low-carbon future that benefits everyone
The Threat is Real, the Solutions are Now
The threat posed by the earth’s changing climate is substantial. A 2019 study by EPA scientists with admittedly conservative estimates found that by 2090, unchecked carbon emissions in a 4.5°C warming scenario could cost the US economy $224 billion more annually, and result in 9,300 more deaths annually from extreme heat alone, as compared to a scenario limiting warming to 2.5°C. Many of the communities that are and will continue to disproportionally experience the first and worst impacts have historically been overlooked and underserved.
Many of the solutions to climate change—increasing energy efficiency, investing in renewable energy sources, establishing a price on carbon, modernizing the electric grid, transitioning to electric vehicles and increasing the use of nature-based solutions—offer the opportunity for more jobs, more consumer choice, lower costs, cleaner air and water, better soil quality and better health for everyone.
The U.S. economy is undergoing rapid transformation. In the next decade there will be a reinvention of how Americans generate, store, transmit and use the resources that power the economy. New infrastructure, business models, and energy and transportation services are needed to reap the full benefits of these new opportunities. Smart policies and practices are essential to ensure that all Americans benefit equitably from this transformation, particularly frontline communities that have been disproportionately burdened and left out of the decision-making process.
The solutions are no mystery. Climate change is not an incurable disease. We know what causes it, and we know what to do about it. We are encouraged by a growing discussion around the need to find workable and effective solutions. States across the country like New York, Virginia, Colorado, and Washington have passed ambitious policies to reduce emissions and drive clean energy deployment. Electric utilities serving millions of customers have committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner. And a growing bipartisan conversation is emerging in Congress evidenced by the creation of the new Senate Climate Solutions Caucus in October 2019, following in the footsteps of the similar effort in the House.
What We're Doing
Building Support from the Ground Up
The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) politically diverse staff and board members help us break through barriers to spark more constructive dialogues and build consensus among disparate groups. Our science and policy experts analyze potential solutions to understand what is environmentally and politically feasible, effective and sustainable. And our decades of work in every state—including siting renewables with minimum environmental impact, advancing clean energy policies, protecting and restoring wetlands, grasslands, and forests, and helping farmers maximize soil’s ability to store carbon—give TNC a unique credibility with key decision makers.
TNC works in states to implement policies that drive the clean energy transition and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to educate key federal legislators about the progress in their state and the need for federal action. With volunteer trustees and staff in all 50 U.S. states, TNC builds support for climate action at the local and state levels, and leverages that support to achieve ambitious progress at the national level. One of our core strengths is our ability to coordinate these efforts and share what works across our 50 state network.
We’re also mobilizing new voices to call for change. Our work with the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition (SGCC)—which spans more than 20 states from Alaska to Florida—has brought these small business owners from coastal communities to policymakers, and opened doors with legislators at the federal and state level. The documentary TNC filmed about the SGCC, “Against the Tide,”—which is now showing at film festivals—has been screened on Capitol Hill for Congressional staff. TNC is using its convening power to drive support for renewable energy in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, for conversion of minelands into solar installations in West Virginia and Nevada, and to build a community of women leaders through its Women on Climate initiative.
TNC also aims to shift the narrative around transitioning to a net zero economy through its Choosing Clean Energy platform. Using sophisticated research to target key audiences, TNC highlights success stories across the country where individuals, businesses, and communities are improving their lives and saving money by moving to renewable energy, deploying energy efficiency technologies, and reducing carbon emissions. Whether it’s highlighting a solar powered US Army training facility in Pennsylvania, celebrating Ohio’s history of energy innovation, or showing how towns in Iowa are exploring group buying power to solarize their communities, we’re using stories from across America to demonstrate that a net zero economy has something to offer for everyone.
Supporting Carbon Pricing
TNC believes an economy-wide price on carbon is among the most effective ways to reduce the carbon pollution causing climate change. In the current Congress, four separate bipartisan carbon-pricing bills were introduced, most notably the MARKET CHOICE Act, which abolishes the federal gas tax and invests revenue in infrastructure repairs and other strategies for achieving a low-carbon economy. Other carbon-pricing bills, such as the SWAP Act, the Raise Wages Cut Carbon Act and the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, introduce key design elements that will inform future legislative action. Outside of Congress, TNC is engaged in the CEO Climate Dialogue, a coalition of leading companies urging Congress to pass climate change legislation, and is working on state and regional market-driven carbon-pricing systems in states like California and Oregon and the northeast.
Driving Innovation and Research
While comprehensive, market-based climate legislation is essential, Federal support for research, development and deployment of clean energy and other technologies that reduce emissions and drive innovation and growth is also needed. In Congress, TNC strongly supports the bipartisan American Energy Innovation Act (S. 2657) . Key provisions in the bill include reauthorization and funding for ARPA-E, which advances energy technologies not ready for private investment; the EFFECT Act, which invests in carbon capture, storage and use technologies; the Better Energy Storage Technology Act; the Clean Industrial Technology Act, which promotes improvements in manufacturing and industrial processes that reduce emissions; and the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act.
Phasing Out Long-Lived Greenhouse Gases
TNC supports efforts to phase out hydrofluorocarbons. The American Innovation and Manufacturing Act is an important near-term opportunity to reduce these long-lived greenhouse gas emissions. It has garnered broad support from bipartisan policymakers and a wide array of corporate and environmental interests. The bill would help the United States meet its commitments under the Montreal Protocol—known as the Kigali Amendment—which TNC recommends the Senate ratify. At the state level we are working in legislatures to phase out hydrofluorocarbons in manufacturing processes.
Modernizing the Electric Grid
New technologies such as distributed generation, energy storage, electric vehicles and microgrids can make the power system cleaner and more reliable and give consumers more control over their energy bills. To better integrate these technologies, TNC is urging Congress, states, and utilities to invest in modernizing the electric grid. To that end, TNC supports expanding existing tax credits to include storage systems, and policies that encourage electric vehicles, such as expanding the tax credit for electric vehicle purchases and funding charging infrastructure in critical highway corridors. TNC is also building the science needed to ensure that a clean energy grid is developed in ways that have the least impacts to important natural areas, and also to avoid the conflicts that can slow down the needed rapid transformation. TNC has used its convening power to bring electric grid and energy system experts to Capitol Hill and other places in bipartisan briefing events.
Advancing Natural Climate Solutions
A fifth of the nation’s carbon emissions could be addressed through natural and working lands that already provide open space, grow the country’s food and clean its water. Congress and state governments should adopt policies and incentives and make investments that enable public land managers, landowners, forest producers, and farmers to implement practices to maximize carbon sequestration in America’s forests, agricultural lands and wetlands. TNC and partners supports the member states of the US Climate Alliance in their efforts to expand investments in natural and working lands.
Benefits of a Low-Carbon Future
The transition to a low-carbon future is already underway and offers significant economic benefits:
- More than 2.2 million Americans have been employed in energy efficiency, and nearly half a million employed in wind and solar. Wind turbine technician and photovoltaic solar installer have been two of the fastest-growing jobs in the United States. Though COVID-19 has caused significant job loss in this sector, it remains a promising source of economic growth and can be an important driver of the country’s economic recovery.
- The cost of renewable energy is reaching all-time lows. The cost of solar modules has dropped 92% over the last decade, and wind turbines have similarly dropped by nearly 50% over the same period. In most parts of the country, new renewable energy generation costs less than continuing to burn coal to generate power.
- Energy efficiency has led to a decoupling of economic growth and energy use. U.S. gross domestic product has reached record highs, yet electricity sales in the United States have remained relatively flat since 2007.
- Automakers have announced plans to bring dozens of new electric vehicle models to market in the next few years while the price of lithium-ion battery packs, a key component of battery electric vehicles, has fallen nearly 90% since 2010.