There are many real-world examples in the United States where government policies and emerging technologies are creating opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while delivering net economic benefits; with targeted policy support, the U.S. could achieve deeper reductions even faster, according to a study by World Resources Institute (WRI).
The study, Seeing Is Believing: Creating a New Climate Economy in the United States, builds upon the recently released, Better Climate, Better Growth: The New Climate Economy Report, produced by the New Climate Economy, which found that global economic growth and tackling climate change can be achieved together. The new study provides additional insights by closely analyzing low-carbon actions, policies, and programs that are delivering economic benefits in the United States.
“These new studies provide a one-two punch that smart policies can drive growth and reduce emissions. Business leaders are waking up to this reality and it’s time for more U.S. elected officials to do the same,” said Andrew Steer, president and CEO, WRI. “From Texas to Iowa, more real-world success stories are emerging each day. We need to seize these opportunities to put America on a strong, low-carbon pathway.”
Combined, the followings areas of opportunity represent more than half of the United States’ carbon footprint, according to WRI: reducing carbon intensity of electric generation; improving electric end-use efficiency; building cleaner, more fuel-efficient passenger vehicles; reducing waste from natural gas systems; and reducing consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC).
Curbing emissions from these areas is critical to meeting U.S. targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
The report provides new recommendations in each of these five areas to deliver additional economic gains through long-term policy certainty for businesses and investors via standards, carbon pricing, or other mechanisms; driving technological improvements through research and development; and providing a better investment environment for new technologies.
Much can and is being done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while providing net economic benefits, as the shift to low-carbon technologies is underway.
For example, state energy-efficiency programs regularly save customers $2 for every $1 invested, and in some cases up to $5, WRI says, while utilities can procure energy efficiency at one-half to one-third the cost of new electricity generation. Further, many major appliances are 50 to 80 percent more efficient than they were just a few decades ago, according to the report, saving consumers billions in energy savings and reducing emissions.
The report also cites natural-gas-fired power plants, which already cost between 19 to 44 percent less than new coal-fired power plants. In many states and regions, renewable energy is becoming cheaper than building new coal plants and even cheaper than natural gas plants in some parts of the country. Increased renewable energy generation has the potential to save American ratepayers tens of billions of dollars a year over the current mix of electric power options amounting to savings of $83 to $241 per person per year, according to studies by Synapse Energy Economics and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
In terms of passenger vehicles, since the implementation of federal fuel economy and CO2 standards for cars and light-duty trucks, the number of vehicles with a fuel economy of 40 miles per gallon or more has increased sevenfold, according to WRI. Further, by 2025 vehicles will be roughly twice as efficient as those sold today while saving owners $3,400 to $5,000 over their vehicle’s lifetime, WRI predicts.
Battery prices for electric vehicles have fallen by 40 percent since 2010, and WRI predicts that long-range electric vehicles could become cost competitive with internal-combustion-engine vehicles by the early 2020s, even without federal tax incentives.
Finally, recent standards to reduce methane leaks are expected to save industry millions of dollars per year. In regard to natural gas systems, methane emissions can be reduced by 25 percent or more through measures that pay for themselves in three years or less, while deeper reductions are possible at just a few cents per thousand cubic feet of gas, according to WRI.