The goal of the effort is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, a deadline that the planet’s leading climate scientists agree the world as a whole must meet in order to stave off catastrophic climate change. Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced their initiative during a Tuesday news conference, calling it a “bold new plan” to combat the crisis. But the proposal lacks any concrete steps.
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the committee’s chairman, said the panel will hold a series of hearings in the coming months to get input from scientists, industry representatives and others on how best to wean the U.S. economy off of fossil fuels. Those discussions would ultimately help influence legislation that the committee hopes to introduce in late 2019.
“I think we have to lead,” Pallone said. “That’s the most important thing.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading United Nations body of researchers studying human-caused climate change, warned in a report last year that governments must cut global emissions nearly in half by 2030 and zero out emissions by midcentury to keep global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). If that warming level is reached, it estimated, the damages would hit $54 trillion.
The committee’s new effort to combat climate pollution does not go as far as the Green New Deal, the bold resolution introduced in February by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) that called for a nationwide mobilization to transition the U.S. economy to 100% renewable energy over the next decade.
Pallone said that the panel is open to weaving portions of the Green New Deal into its plan but believe the 2050 target “is more realistic.” He and other committee members stressed that they are open to all ideas and that they hope to gain support from Republicans.
“We can do any kind of whimsical thing, but we have to get this done in a way that includes conversations with stakeholders, their buy-in and their involvement in a consensus bill,” Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) said. “We launched this, immediately, to show our sense of urgency.”
The announcement Tuesday was met with mixed reactions from environmentalists.
John Bowman, managing director for government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, applauded the group for “setting bold goals to protect our children and grandchildren from climate catastrophe.” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in his own statement that pushing the deadline back “waves the white flag of surrender” and that the committee is “punting the greatest challenge the world faces to their children and grandchildren.”
The Sunrise Movement, the youth-led climate advocacy group that thrust the Green New Deal into the national spotlight, accused the committee of “misrepresenting the science” by saying a 2050 net-zero emissions target in the U.S. aligns with the scientific consensus.
“That is what the world’s top scientists at the United Nations are saying, conservatively, is necessary to achieve globally,” Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash said in a statement. “It’s clear that if we are to achieve that goal globally, the United States — as one of the world’s largest and most developed economies — must move much more aggressively. To set a low goal that is misaligned with what science demands out of the gate is irresponsible, and bargaining against our future.”