The U.S. will probably beat its own target for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions as the costs of wind and solar power fall and coal becomes inviable, former Vice President Al Gore said.
President Barack Obama’s administration has said the U.S. is on track to meet a pledge of cutting heat-trapping gases by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.
“We’re likely to see the U.S. reduce emissions significantly more than that,” Gore said in a telephone interview yesterday. The pledge falls short of the 28-nation European Union’s target of a 20 percent cut from 1990 to 2020.
The U.S. goal is “entirely inadequate of course, given the nature of the challenge, but it’s a welcome step in the right direction,” Gore said. If the U.S. pledge had a baseline of 1990, it would amount to a 3.4 percent reduction over the three decades, according to the EU.
The United Nations said combined global carbon targets are less than half what’s needed to curb the temperature rise in the industrial era to the international target of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). UN scientists said last month that humans have now emitted more than half the carbon permissible to remain within the 2-degree limit.
Gore said the fingerprints of man-made climate change are now increasingly visible in extreme weather events, fueled by a warmer atmosphere that retains more moisture. He pointed to Hurricane Sandy, which caused insured losses of about $25 billion when it hit the U.S. East Coast last year, as well as drought that cut U.S. crop yields.
“The most powerful voice is that of Mother Nature, the increasing storms, floods, droughts and other extreme events,” Gore said. “We’re paying the cost of carbon every day and we should put a price on carbon in markets and put a price on denial in the political system.”
The U.S. Senate abandoned attempts to pass a law limiting carbon emissions in 2010. The country has no national emissions market or carbon tax, though regional markets exist in California and nine states in the Northeast.
Gore said the recession, cheap shale gas and a failure of policy makers in the U.S. Senate combined to slow efforts to tackle climate change since 2008. The declining cost of renewable energy and increasing price of coal are spurring interest in reversing that.
“The cost-down curves for solar and wind has now pushed the price of renewable electricity to parity with the grid average price in many countries,” Gore said. “Within fewer than 7 years, 85 percent of the globe’s population will live in areas where renewable electricity is as cheap or cheaper than other sources.”
Solar photovoltaic panel prices are now less than half of their cost three years ago, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The cost of energy for onshore wind turbines over the lifetime of a power plant is about $83 a megawatt-hour, compared with $78 for coal.
“That growth in production and deployment is going to accelerate as the price continues to go down,” Gore said. On the other hand, “the prospects for new coal-fired generating plants in the U.S. have dwindled to nearly zero,” he said.
The former vice president plans a 24-hour broadcast starting Oct. 22 at 11 a.m. in Los Angeles to highlight the price humans are paying around the world because of carbon pollution. The show, entitled 24 Hours of Reality: The Cost of Carbon, will be streamed on his climaterealityproject.org website.
“Our political system is broken. The influence of big money, not least from some of the biggest carbon polluters has resulted in the hacking of democracy,” Gore said. “But empowered by the Internet, many citizens and citizens group promoting the public interest are finding ways to be more persuasive.”