U.S. Senate Democrats release climate action report

“The climate crisis threatens our lives and livelihoods. The evidence is clear: we must flatten the warming curve, and fast.” This is one key statement in The Case for Climate Action: Building a Clean Economy for the American People, a report prepared by the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis.

“Too much of the climate movement of the past was about what climate change is doing to us, and not about what climate action will do for us. Taking action does not require austerity and scarcity. Done well, it will result in more wealth, more fairness, better jobs, and more security for every American,” the report says.

The report lists three “overarching goals” of the committee:

  • Reduce U.S. emissions rapidly to help achieve 100% global net-zero emissions no later than 2050.
  • Stimulate economic growth by increasing federal spending on climate action to at least 2% of GDP annually – and ensure that at least 40% of the benefits from these investments help communities of color and low-income, deindustrialized and disadvantaged communities.
  • Create at least 10 million new jobs.

By the end of 2019, clean energy supplied over 38% of the electricity used in the U.S., split almost evenly between nuclear power and renewables (including hydropower), the report says.

According to a peer-reviewed study, under a high-emissions scenario, climate-driven temperature changes alone could cost the United States 9% of GDP by 2060 compared to a no-warming scenario. Climate impacts could cost 1% of GDP annually starting as soon as 2030. Well before 2040, the cost could exceed 2% of GDP each year.

Studies suggest we can decarbonize 80% of the U.S. economy with an investment of 1% of GDP or less per year. Achieving 100% net-zero emissions by 2050 might require 2% of GDP per year, due to the harder-to-decarbonize sectors of our economy. There is no viable scenario in which our country avoids significant spending.

“Only Congress has the power to create nationwide goals, investments, and standards so the whole economy, the weight of the federal government, and the power of American consumers are all moving in the same direction,” the report says.

Specific to hydroelectricity, the report says hydropower production falls during times of drought and changing precipitation and snow pack patterns threaten existing hydropower infrastructure. The steady retreat of glaciers worldwide is a threat to communities that rely on runoff to provide predictable water supply and hydropower.

With regard to storage, pumped-storage hydropower represents about 95% of U.S. utility-scale storage and is the most prevalent example of a stored medium system. Affordable batteries only store electricity for a few hours, and the availability of electricity from wind, solar and hydropower generators vary not only day-to-day, but also season-to-season. This begs for the continued development of affordable new long-term methods to store energy that can be used in a variety of contexts. However, other technologies are not yet available for cheap, widespread deployment.

According to the report, hydropower plays a key role in helping stabilize the power grid, as it is less variable than most renewables and pumped-storage hydropower can function as utility-scale grid storage. Broad R&D priorities include upgrading existing hydropower and developing new technologies for smaller, low-impact hydropower.

Marine and hydrokinetic energy were also discussed, as “emerging technologies that merit increased RD&D investment.” As current RD&D is primarily in the design through demonstration project phases, there are opportunities for innovation at various stages of the development process, the report says.

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