Our 1 Year Anniversary!

The newsletter for people "woke" on carbon and climate

Issue No. 52

Welcome to the latest issue of Carbon Creed - a curated newsletter for people “woke” on carbon and climate. 


I can’t believe it has been a full year since we started this journey. Those of you who were there for the first issue, can attest - we’ve come a long way! To go from 55 initial subscribers to nearly 1,000 weekly readers is a phenomenal feat. Thank you for sticking with me and helping to refine my lens and writing voice.

As a Carbon Creed subscriber, whether you skim through the headlines or dive into a post, it means a lot because you’ve given me the privilege to visit your inbox every week. And for that, I say thank you. I will not misuse your trust.

IN THIS ISSUE we consider the many paths forward on climate leadership for the Biden-Harris administration. I got a great assist on this from Bloomberg Green, where the writers assembled a collection of The 41 things that Biden should do first on climate change. I whittled their list down to my top 11 - I hope you enjoy them.

(my lens)

Here in Washington, we describe the period between election day and the inauguration as the “transition season.” Lot’s of folks trying to predict who will get what job, etc. The inauguration is on January 20th, then it’s time to govern! It’s in that spirit that I’d like to share my predictions on climate during the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris administration:

First, I expect President-elect Biden to act decisively on climate from the jump. During the first 100 days he will likely signal that U.S. leadership has returned to the global stage. Expect the U.S. to officially re-enter the Paris climate agreement.

Second, Biden will want to lay out his climate vision and leadership of the Executive Branch. During the first 100 days, he will likely issue an Executive Order(s) charting the federal government on a new course towards decarbonization. I also expect to see environmental justice policy woven throughout.

Third, the President-elect will need to demonstrate his special talent for negotiating with legislators. Sometime during the first 100 days, I expect two (2) stimulus efforts to emerge: first a covid-19 focused stimulus bill, followed by an infrastructure-jobs focused stimulus deal. There will be huge pressure on Biden-Harris to include climate spend in the covid bill, but that would be extremely difficult in a split Congress. Stay tuned for more posts on this.

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11 things Biden should do first on climate change

(Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Getty Images photo: Win McNamee; Axios)

President-elect Biden’s victory gives the people who dream up big climate ideas something they haven’t experienced in years: an opportunity to wield power in the U.S. and shape the future of the world’s second-biggest source of greenhouse gases.

Biden has promised to spend $2 trillion on a sweeping climate-and-job agenda. Getting that done wouldn’t be easy, especially with a split U.S. Congress. And the U.S. will be playing catchup, after falling far behind other leading economies on climate goals.

But there are powerful climate levers that can be pulled from inside the White House, and plenty of reason to expect that a president who prioritizes climate action can drive policy.

Bloomberg Green writers spoke to leading climate experts and scientists, and assembled a collection of The 41 things that Biden should do first on climate change. I culled my top 11 ideas in this post for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

1. Adopt a carbon price benchmark

Joseph E. Aldy, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

“President-elect Biden can adopt a carbon price benchmark to guide U.S. policy. Similar to the ‘internal carbon prices’ used by Microsoft, GM, and BP, a carbon price benchmark would operationalize a whole-of-government response and lay the foundation for a whole-of-economy effort in combatting climate change.”

“A carbon price benchmark—initially $50 per ton—would reflect the benefits of reducing the pollution causing climate change [and] guide agencies in setting emission goals, akin to their 2009 and 2015 efforts. This would reorient budget planning and redirect the management of vehicle fleets, buildings, and other assets to account for climate change. The White House could support legislation—clean energy subsidies in a stimulus package, a national clean energy standard, or a carbon tax—so long as the carbon benchmark justifies the cost of doing so. This would ensure that climate change policies make sound investments on behalf of the American taxpayer.” —As told to Akshat Rathi

2. Implement clean standards widely

Hal Harvey, CEO, Energy Innovation

“President-elect Biden outlined his plan for America to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035, en route to zeroing out all U.S. emissions by mid-century. Such ‘standards’ mandate achieving a certain goal, and are proven in the energy realm, having spurred the boom in wind and solar. Well-designed public standards are common across our economy: It’s how we get clean water, safe food, buildings that don’t fall down, and safe medicines. Standards are common because they work.”

“Clean energy standards in 30 U.S. states have helped reduce power sector carbon emissions. But once the new administration takes office, other critical industries like transportation and buildings would benefit from standards. The Biden administration should set minimum requirements that make 60% of new car sales zero-emission vehicles by 2030, with interim targets along the way. Because cars take about 17 years to wear out, we must start now.”

“Buildings, which burn fossil-fuels for heat, need to zero out that practice as well—we think by 2025 for new construction. Electrifying buildings, like automobiles, reduces their emissions footprint as the grid cleans up. That process is on its way. Buildings, it’s worth noting, last far longer even than cars, hence the need to start promptly, lest we burden home owners and the planet alike with unsustainable fossil fuels.”

“The upshot is simple: decarbonize the grid, and electrify (almost) everything. Get started now, so we don’t build another generation of fossil-dependent infrastructure. And use clear standards to drive this progress.” —As told to Eric Roston

3. Seed climate leaders in every federal agency

Vicki Arroyo, Executive Director, Georgetown Climate Center 

“Making climate change a top priority in the White House and Cabinet from day one begins during his transition—with people. Biden should appoint senior officials with climate expertise, including naming a respected Assistant to the President for Climate and creating a National Climate Council. To foster a ‘whole of government’ approach, climate policies should be coordinated through an inter-agency, Cabinet-level task force, with climate councils in all key agencies to identify and work toward aggressive goals.”

“With extraordinary climate leadership at the top, the substantive policy work of his administration will flow that much easier: Rejoining the Paris Agreement and committing to even stronger U.S. international leadership; cleaning up the power sector by 2035, in-line with his campaign promise; bringing the economy to net-zero emissions by midcentury; using the Clean Air Act to regulate climate pollutants across the economy, including reversing Trump regulatory rollbacks. With the Senate under Republican control, legislative opportunities will be limited but could include Clean Energy Standards. Continued Covid-19-related stimulus discussions will also provide opportunities to support investments in clean energy infrastructure and resilience.” —As told to Eric Roston

4. Address the impacts of climate-fueled extreme heat

Kathy Baughman McLeod, Director, Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center

“In the past few months alone, extreme heat records were shattered in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah and temperatures in Death Valley, CA topped 130° F. Conditions are expected to worsen, with temperatures of more than 127° F predicted in 47 states over the next 60 years. More people die of extreme heat than any other weather-related event in the U.S. It exacerbates underlying health conditions that disproportionately impacts low income communities and people of color, as we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Finally, extreme heat exacts a devastating economic toll as well. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that heat may cost the U.S. $170 billion in lost wages by the end of the century, a figure that does not adequately quantify the broader losses attributable to extreme heat, such as decreased worker productivity, crop failures, business interruption, infrastructure failures, cancelled flights and more.”

“Yet, because it does not cause physical damage that can be seen, photographed and broadcast like wildfires, hurricanes and floods, extreme heat remains an invisible killer. The first action President-elect Biden can take is to name and rank heatwaves in the same way that has been done with tropical storms and hurricanes since the 1950s to 1) create the culture of awareness and preparedness around the unrecognized perils of extreme heat, 2) mobilize short-term response and long-term heat-reduction actions to save lives and protect economies and supply chains, and 3) prioritize climate adaptation and resilience alongside mitigation to contend with the consequences of legacy carbon emissions and climate policy.” —As told to Akshat Rathi

5. Enact an “equitable” clean electricity standard

Leah Stokes, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of California, Santa Barbara

“In his first 100 days, President-elect Joe Biden should ensure Congress enacts a Clean Electricity Standard (CES) that targets 100% clean electricity by 2035. This policy would require utilities to clean up operations over the coming decade and a half. While Congress has considered enacting a CES for decades, it has never passed one through both chambers. Instead, states have taken the lead, with a majority passing clean energy targets. And many states and cities have ratcheted up their ambition: already, one in three Americans lives in a state or city that is targeting 100% clean power.”

“To be successful, a CES policy must also include a significant focus on energy efficiency. As we move off of powering our cars with oil and our homes with fossil gas, we will need more electricity overall. Hence, ensuring that all the power we make is used as efficiently as possible will be important.”

“Cleaning up our electricity system will also need to be done with equity in mind. Right now, many Americans are struggling to pay their electricity bills during the pandemic. The federal government should invest in policies that help these families, for example by expanding the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). To ensure that the costs of the transition are not pushed onto everyday Americans, the federal government should look hard at refinancing coal plant debt to help these dirty projects shut down quickly and ensure transition assistance for communities and relief for ratepayers.” —As told to Eric Roston

6. Make Commerce climate-conscious.

Kate Gordon, Executive Committee, Clean Energy for Biden

“Here’s something President-elect Biden can do immediately, even before taking office: prioritize climate change across all cabinet appointments. There is no agency that’s exempt from helping our country reduce the real financial, environmental, and natural security risks that come with climate-related events like floods, fires, and extreme heat—or from capturing the huge economic opportunities that come with climate leadership.”

“One agency in particular can help with the truly knotty problem of how to transition our huge, complex, petroleum-based economy to carbon neutrality, and it’s… the Department of Commerce. Hear me out: Economic transition is essentially economic development—with, in this case, a healthy dose of climate science to help guide smart decisionmaking. For that, Commerce has all the right tools at its disposal—the Bureau of Economic Analysis, to track economic trends at the regional and local level; [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] to catalogue climate data and its immediate and future impacts; the Economic Development Administration to support communities and industries as they come up with their own approaches to building more diversified and stronger regional economies."

“It may sound small or bureaucratic, but directing all U.S. agencies to step up on climate would show not just strong leadership on climate, but good management as well. And God knows, we need some of that.” —As told to Eric Roston

7. Put a price on CO₂

Ottmar Edenhofer, Director and Chief Economist, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

“Building a national CO₂ pricing scheme—be it a market-based emissions allowance trading scheme across all sectors or a tax—is the most efficient climate stabilization policy. If the new administration would do this, they would sustainably protect U.S. citizens from increasing extreme weather events, increasing wildfires, increasing sea levels.”

“California, which is the fifth biggest economy of the world, and states such as Massachusetts have already some experience with CO₂ pricing. The same goes for Europe and China. Also Canada and Japan—basically the greatest partners and competitors of the U.S. The new administration can look at what they did and do better. A U.S. CO₂ pricing system should work across sectors, from energy production to industry and transport and housing and agriculture. And it should include a minimum price to provide a reliable framework so businesses have certainty for planning. Importantly, such a pricing scheme can generate substantial income—money that, to some extent, can be used to compensate low-income families by sending Christmas checks or lowering energy taxes. And to some extent this money could be used for much-needed investments into U.S. infrastructure.” —As told to Eric Roston

8. Reveal the real financial risks of climate change

John Hoeppner, Head of U.S. Stewardship and Investments, Legal & General Investment Management America

“Over the past four years, the U.S. government has not provided clear long-term direction on climate priorities, and subsequently, U.S. companies have not kept up with global environmental progress. This week provided a stark illustration of that disparity as the U.K. moved to require climate disclosures for large companies and financial institutions by 2025, while the Federal Reserve acknowledged climate change as a systemic financial risk in its semi-annual assessment for the very first time.”

“There is a common formula for success though: collective will paired with decisive government action. While capital markets will drive progress against climate standards over the long run, progress in the U.S. has been slow. Our capital markets don’t understand how to value climate risks because those risks aren’t being effectively disclosed. The market’s invisible hand is tied behind its back."

"The president-elect must step in to solve intractable challenges that the free market cannot. To start, policymakers must establish a price on carbon to incentivize businesses to invest in renewables and reduce operational reliance on fossil fuels. Second, joining international groups that are established to address climate risk will provide clear direction for companies and align the U.S. with global climate expectations. Finally, encouraging and even mandating climate disclosure and climate stress testing across corporate entities will ensure we have a financial system that's better prepared for long term economic risk.” —As told to Eric Roston

9. Build - with a carbon price

Joseph Majkut, Director of Climate Policy, Niskanen Center

“In his sweeping plans to address climate change, Joe Biden has talked a lot about the importance of investment. Investment is the right approach, because action on climate requires building a lot of clean stuff. The most effective approach would bring the White House and Congress together on a legislative package combining early public investments in resilient and low-carbon infrastructure with a carbon price..”

“Why is upfront public investment important? Because the shock of Covid has left the economy in a tenuous state. Immediate investments in infrastructure will stabilize the economy and boost jobs, while lowering the long-term damage from climate change. These investments should prioritize making our infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather because we know the worst is still coming. They should also help build what we need for a low-carbon economy: transmission lines for clean energy, pipelines for waste CO2, and chargers for electric vehicles–not to mention low-carbon heating and cooling options for homes and businesses.”

“And why a carbon price? Because, in the long term, spending will have to give way to markets. And a carbon tax would reset the market for decarbonization. Mr. Biden’s legacy should be one of fair, fast, and clean economic growth. This is the plan to get there.” —As told to Eric Roston

10. Don’t give up on Congress

Scott Segal, Energy Lawyer and Lobbyist, Bracewell LLP

“One of Joe Biden’s greatest strengths is his understanding of Congress, an institution he served faithfully for years. Because climate change is a complex issue that deserves balanced, effective and durable solutions, I advise climate engagement with Congress on both sides of the aisle and within the first hundred days.”

“While some say divided government makes legislative action on climate impossible, the historical record shows that divided government can be the most productive—but you have to know what you’re doing. The most aggressive legislative proposals may indeed be off the table, but there are a raft of climate policies that flange up nicely with infrastructure and government investment that could be the basis of bipartisan compromise. Falling for the siren song of mere executive authority regarding climate change will miss important opportunities to work with Congress and may be turned back by an increasingly conservative judiciary. Green tax incentives, research efforts focused on scalability and commercialization, energy storage through batteries and hydrogen, carbon capture and sequestration, new refrigerants, new vehicle and fuel strategies, and even clean-energy standards have all been the subject of bipartisan legislative efforts. A president with a respect for Congress as an institution and a good relationship with Congressional leadership can draw proposals like these together and make real climate progress. But it will take honest engagement, early and often in the next Administration. While it’s hard to pass legislation in a hundred days, experience dictates you can make significant progress toward achieving that goal.” —As told to Eric Roston

11. Moonshot - electrify everything

Adam Zurofsky, Executive Director, Rewiring America

“As a candidate, President-elect Biden proposed an aggressive climate agenda, including a commitment to clean up America’s power grid by 2035. And, while that is welcome, our analysis—funded in part by the Department of Energy—shows that we can go even bigger.”

“Roadmaps for decarbonizing the economy typically look only at individual sectors such as the power grid, transportation, or buildings. By looking at how these sectors interact across the economy we have been able to identify previously underappreciated opportunities.”

“The key to our plan is electrification. If we committed to replacing the fossil fuel machines we currently use with their electric counterparts and enacted supportive policies, we could slash our energy emissions, save the average American household as much as $2,500 a year on energy bills, and create as many as 25 million new jobs.”

“The transition starts with an intense ‘mobilization period’ in which government and critical industries build out clean energy capacity on a wartime-like footing. Government will also need to help Americans overcome what are currently higher up-front costs of switching to clean energy—that means credit support to spur private lending, optimizing permitting and building codes, and training electricians and other workers in order to meet demand. It also means regulatory reform to drive a more dynamic, clean grid that allows the solar panels on my roof to store electricity in the battery of your EV to power the electric stove in the White House.”

“The best part is that we can do all of this now, with existing technologies, and without compromising our lifestyles. When it comes to climate policy, bigger truly is better.” —As told to Eric Roston


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