The new report from the United Nations' climate science group is direct and clear: If we want to keep total global warming below two degrees Celsius—the Paris Agreement's absolute cap—we need to make drastic changes in our food, energy, and transportation systems immediately.
The solutions are the same ones suggested in previous decades, but the stakes are higher than ever, especially for people in coastal and low-lying areas. In fact, a two-degree cap would flood nations at sea level, so the countries in the agreement commissioned this Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report to test the feasibility of just 1.5 degrees of warming. It's possible, they say, but only if we act now.
This is the first IPCC report released since President Donald Trump took office. As the second-biggest global producer of greenhouse gases, the United States' support is crucial to meet any of the Paris goals, but in his short tenure, Trump has threatened to pull out of the Paris Agreement and allowed the U.S. to take little effective action against climate change. Here's what the Trump administration is doing.
Loosening Methane Rules
The Bureau of Land Management, part of the Department of the Interior, announced last month that it would remove Obama-era regulations on methane waste. The Environmental Protection Agency proposed doing the same, although the rule isn't final yet. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas that causes more warming than carbon dioxide, though it stays in the atmosphere for a shorter period. It is released into the atmosphere mostly by natural gas processing and distribution systems; animal agriculture also contributes a significant amount of methane. In 2016, methane accounted for 10 percent of U.S. emissions.
Rolling Back Fuel Efficiency Standards
The Obama EPA's regulations on new cars would have forced auto manufacturers to increase fuel efficiency, in miles per gallon, beginning in 2020. The intent of the plan was to require new cars and trucks to get over 50 miles per gallon by 2025, which would have significantly reduced greenhouse emissions. The current administration is working to repeal that rule and to push back on California's extra-stringent emissions rules. California is suing the government to keep the Obama-era rule intact.
Bringing Back Coal Power
Burning coal has one of the highest CO2 emission rates of conventional energy sources. Additionally, mining it, either underground or on the surface, is extremely hazardous to human health. But the EPA is working to repeal the Clean Power Plan, which placed coal-burning power plants under strict rules. The EPA's own analysis found that its proposed deregulation could lead to over a thousand premature deaths every year, but it's pushing ahead.
Allowing Offshore Drilling
The Trump administration has also opened much of America's coast up for oil drilling, far more than in even the George W. Bush years. New Jersey's governor signed a bill to prevent drilling in its waters, and Florida's governor pushed back on drilling on its shores, but much of the country will be open to new leases. Offshore drilling has high environmental and human costs: Pulling up oil from the continental shelf requires high energy inputs and leads to the availability of more carbon-based fuel burning, and oil rigs come with a host of occupational hazards. The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement recently repealed major offshore drilling regulations passed in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, in which an explosion killed 11 people.