Having entered the era of the Anthropocene - human impact is in danger of pushing environmental boundaries to an irreversible tipping point. Strong policy reform to regulate negative externalities has been long overdue. However, it remains to be seen whether the new EPA rules can pave the way for decarbonization.
Kudos to President Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on a true breakthrough in climate policy yesterday! The newly proposed EPA rules on CO2 emissions from power plants represent a breakthrough not only in the US Government ambition to halt climate change, but also a breakthrough in the methods used to do so. The EPA rules will be attacked, both as too much and too little. I will say up front that indeed much more needs to be done. Yet it is a day for celebrating a significant watershed in US policy. Let me state three key points to begin. First, the dangers from human-induced climate change are real and the climate science is sound. Deniers will probably shriek in the coming days, yet their scientific credibility is now nearly zero and sinking fast. With another record heat year or two the climate deniers would then crawl back into their caves, or more likely into their air-conditioned offices on Madison Avenue where they are paid very big bucks by the Koch Brothers to confuse the public on this vital issue. Second, Monday's EPA rules are significant but not enough. They aim to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants by around 30 percent as of 2030 compared with 2005, but we will need must deeper CO2 reductions thereafter (e.g. by 2050), and across many more sectors of the economy (e.g. transport, which the Administration has started dealing with through stricter fuel economy standards). Still, Monday's EPA rules and targets matter a lot, and set a very sensible and constructive template for further actions. Third, US actions by themselves will not be sufficient to stop global warming if the other major emitters, notably China and the European Union, and also Canada, Australia, the Gulf Cooperation Council, India, and Russia continue with business as usual. But Monday's announcement makes it far more likely that the other high-emitting countries will also agree to make major cuts in Paris in December 2015 when they and the US meet to negotiate a new climate agreement. The US now has a detailed, if partial, plan on the table. Monday's actions will therefore help the whole world to reach a serious agreement next year.