Worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are expected to drop by 8% this year; the drop can largely be attributed to decreased energy demand related to Covid-19. We have all seen the photographs of mountains visible behind cities for the first time in years. From Beijing, to Los Angeles, to Nairobi, the impacts of reduced local pollution can be easily observed. While these images are uplifting, the impacts are short-lived and the changes will quickly disappear once economies return to “business as usual.” While achieving environmental benefits cannot come at such an extreme cost to our livelihoods and economies, the recent reduction in pollution fuels hope that with the correct policies in place we can achieve a future where the foothills of LA are not obscured by haze.
During these highly unusual times, climate policy is moving forward. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has continued to expand and states are updating commitments. Virginia passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act in April 2020, committing the state to 100 percent clean electricity and the development of a RGGI compliant cap and trade program. In fall 2019, Pennsylvania committed to joining and New Jersey committed to rejoining RGGI. Recently, Pennsylvania released new models describing the benefits of joining RGGI. Benefits include reducing carbon emissions from the power plants by 180 million tons between 2022 and 2030, as well as raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the state. In April of 2020, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy released a RGGI funding plan. The plan includes transitioning New Jersey to 100 percent clean energy by 2050 and investing $80 million from RGGI proceeds in clean energy, job creation, environmental justice groups, and coastal communities.
Western states have also pressed on with climate legislation. Illinois, Nevada and New Mexico have all continued to pass and develop climate change plans in 2020. Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown released an executive order in March of 2020 that sets a new standard to reduce emissions to 45% of 1990 levels by 2035, and 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. Brown’s path to reach these goals cites a diverse group of actions. These include updating the Clean Fuels Program, increasing the efficiency requirements for buildings and appliances, fast-tracking electric vehicles infrastructure, and accelerating the transition to clean energy sources by utilities. Noticing the impact of Covid-19 on the economy, it is hard to not imagine how the impacts of climate change could depress the economy. States pushing forward on climate goals will help make our economy more robust and resilient.