The biggest challenge is reducing, offsetting 51 billion tons per year of emissions to get to Net Zero by 2050.
1 Time is more important than technology Early action pays dividends
About three quarters of what we need to do to stop climate change are emissions cuts just in the 2020s and early 2030s. The actions we take early in the 2020s pay off the most handsomely because they have so long to accumulate between now and the 2050s. Those in the 2020’s are 76% of tota
2. Emergency Brakes are solutions we can adopt now but also have a fast response in the atmosphere. We don’t have to wait for new technologies or infrastructure
For example, stopping deforestation immediately, preventing trees from being burned everywhere in the world, as fast as we can, would have an immediate impact on climate change. Or cutting methane leaks, because methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas and warms the planet so much in the early days, that’s another kind of emergency brake solution. 30% of the leaking methane coming from natural gas wells happens from only 1% of the wells. Shutting down those leaks can have a huge impact on methane emissions
3. The next wave of climate actions will take a longer to unfold because it requires us to build whole new systems for electricity, for buildings, transportation, industry and even our farms and agriculture. Basically, we’ve got to remodel everything in the world and it’s going to take years and billions of dollars
Take one example, electricity – Electricity is 27% of the 51 billion tons per year of emissions. Changing America’s entire electricity system to zero-carbon sources would raise average retail rates by between 1.3 and 1.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, roughly 15 percent more than what most people pay now. That $18 a month for the average home—pretty affordable for most people, though possibly not for low-income Americans, who already spend a tenth of their income on energy.
The main culprits are our demand for reliability, and the curse of intermittency for renewables are solar or wind. Either we need to store excess electricity in batteries (prohibitively expensive), or we need to add other energy sources that use fossil fuels, such as natural gas plants that run only when you need them
What about nuclear power? Nuclear produces 20% of power for US but expensive to build. Human error can cause accidents. Uranium, the fuel it uses, can be converted for use in weapons. The waste is dangerous and hard to store.
What can be done ? In 2008, Bill Gates founded TerraPower to develop the next generation of nuclear technology. His company is experimenting with Natrium, a liquid sodium-cooled fast reactor (rather than water-cooled reactor) that is over 50% cheaper, safer, and even more environmentally friendly than current nuclear power. However, it will not be ready until the 2030’s. Is that time enough
4. More action needed from the states. The Inflation Reduction Act is the most substantial federal action the US has ever taken to combat climate change, but it was not intended to solve every decarbonization challenge in one bill. A sustained stream of federal and state actions is the only way to close the US emissions gap. While there is more activity at all levels of government than ever, the ramp-up of policy action required in the years ahead will be a substantial lift above and beyond the unprecedented actions of late.