The goal of many actions proposed for the Green New Deal is preservation of the environment. For 250 years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, humans have altered the global environment in a profound way not experienced for millennia, and we have the means to alter the earth forever into a planet resembling Venus. (Trivia Note: Climate guru James Hansen began his career as an astrophysicist studying Venus. This led him to inquire about the effects of carbon dioxide on the earth’s climate.)
Two different approaches of the international community have led to the current state of world actions on climate: research and agreement. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed in 1988 by the UN Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was agreed in 1992, signed by President George H.W. Bush in Rio, and unanimously ratified by the U.S. Senate. (Trivia Note: Mitch McConnel was a member of the Senate then.)
- The IPCC (the science panel) has reviewed climate research for over 30 years, producing its first Assessment Report in 1990 and subsequent reports every five to seven years. It has also done special reports, including the 2018 report analyzing the difference between a 2 degree C increase in average global temperature and a 1.5 degree C change. While it seems trivial, the difference has significant effects on the environment.
- The UNFCCC (conventions of parties to the 1992 agreement) agreed in 2015 on the Paris Agreement. While signed by President Obama, it was never ratified by the Senate and President Trump withdrew the U.S. The Paris Agreement recommend that we keep temperature increases “well below” 2 degrees C and recommends keeping them below 1.5 degree C. Hence the IPCC study referenced above.
Reviewing this environmental history provides us with the parameters for the Green New Deal. The Paris Agreement set “net zero” by 2050 as one of its goals; this would mean an average emissions reduction of 3.3 percent per year between now and then. Obviously, an average will not occur every year and until we get on the track for net zero by 2050, we will have to compensate in later years for delays now. The IPCC, in its 2018 report on 1.5C vs. 2C, https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/, suggested halving emissions by 2030 in order to avoid some of the most damaging environmental effects. In two 2019 special reports, on land and water, the IPCC outlined what those effects would be on the environment, particularly on coastal areas and wildlands. In the The 2019 Report on Land, https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/, extinctions of species, wildfires, and displacement of millions of people are some of the more important effects of climate change on the environment. In the The 2019 Report on Water, https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc/, migration and loss of property along coasts are documented as some of the more important effects of climate change on the environment.
In summary, the international community has recognized the need for climate action and set the parameters for the Green New Deal. We must begin reducing emissions now to half of current levels by 2030 and zero net emissions by 2050. Failure will mean devastating effects on land, wildlife, coasts, forests and indeed the entire global ecosystem that supports human life.