As we wrap up the first full week of the new year, I’m taking a quick look back at the climate movement in 2019. One year ago, I made some predictions about climate politics trends in 2019 (see my original post here) – and wanted to see how much I got right!
PREDICTION: Democratic presidential candidates are pressured by advocates on their plans to address climate change, but hold off on committing to anything specific.
FALSE: The 2020 election cycle became the first U.S. general election with climate change as a major election issue, even before 2020 began. In 2019, many Democratic candidates drilled down into climate policy, committing to actions from banning fossil fuel exports to incentivizing carbon farming. The presence of Jay Inslee during the first few months of the race was key in encouraging other candidates to come out strongly in favor of climate action. You can learn more about candidates’ climate plans and opinions from the League of Conservation Voters, Greenpeace, Sunrise Movement, Data for Progress, InsideClimate News and The Washington Post.
PREDICTION: Subnational networks like We Are Still In and the U.S. Climate Alliance significantly increase membership by engaging newly elected governors, as well as more businesses, universities, and cultural actors.
TRUE: The U.S. Climate Alliance gained eight new governors early this year, and the We Are Still In coalition surpassed 3,800 American institutions united in support of the Paris Agreement. In total, U.S. subnational networks for climate action now represent nearly 70% of US GDP and nearly 65% of the US population.
PREDICTION: Cities and states up their game on reducing emissions from the transport sector – by deploying funds from the VW settlement and announcing other initiatives.
TRUE: States continued to deploy VW settlement money in creative ways, the Transportation Climate Initiative further developed its plans for a northeast carbon market for vehicle emissions, and Washington, North Carolina, and Colorado committed to new programs tackling transportation emissions. Cities made strides too, including the launch of a new electric vehicle purchasing collaborative through Climate Mayors to help cities transition their fleets, and Los Angeles’ commitment to phase out gas-fueled cars by 2050.
PREDICTION: The subnational climate movement in the US continues to inspire cities, states/provinces, and businesses in other countries to form similar alliances, pushing key governments to go farther.
TRUE: Alliances for Climate Action, run by the World Wildlife Fund, supports such subnational coalitions all over the world. This year, Vietnam and South Africa joined existing coalitions in Argentina, Japan, and Mexico.
PREDICTION: Freshman House members continue to call for increased action on climate change, and more climate and energy related hearings are conducted in many relevant committees.
TRUE: This was evidenced all year long, starting with the introduction of the Green New Deal resolution in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey. 2019 was refreshingly filled with dozens of hearings on climate change and its impacts and solutions, featuring many top experts from the climate community.
PREDICTION: The new House Climate Change Committee displays infighting amongst Democrats, but major policy plans such as a Green New Deal do not emerge (yet).
TRUE: When the Green New Deal resolution was introduced, moderate and progressive Democrats expressed very different reactions. Major policy recommendations did not come out of the new climate committee, but Nancy Pelosi led a delegation of 15 members of Congress to the UN climate talks in December to tell the world that America is “still in” the Paris Agreement. A major climate policy proposal is apparently coming from House Democrats in spring 2020.
PREDICTION: Global emissions plateau – or at least get close to plateauing by significantly reducing their rate of growth compared to 2018.
FALSE: Unfortunately, global carbon emissions in 2019 are expected to set a new record high. In the US, it looks like emissions fell slightly in 2019, but this was mostly due to closing coal plants while other sectors struggle to lower emissions.
PREDICTION: Carbon pricing continues to expand at the state level, but fails to attract enough attention on Capitol Hill.
TRUE: But with some caveats. Carbon pricing faced major battles this year, especially in Oregon, where Republican lawmakers literally escaped the state to avoid voting on a major cap-and-trade bill. But, Pennsylvania joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the northeast, and Virginia is poised to do the same in 2020 after initially losing the battle in 2019 before the state legislature flipped to Democratic control. Federally, conversations are moving in the right direction, but progress is stalled with current leadership. One bright spot was in May, when over 75 businesses met with members of Congress to advocate for a price on carbon, convincing at least Mitt Romney that the idea is worth considering.
PREDICTION: Most nations announce plans to reduce emissions further, but the aggregate is still not enough to keep global temperature increase below 2 degrees C, much less 1.5.
FALSE: Unfortunately, very few countries announced new plans for further emissions reductions this year, despite urgent calls from the UN Secretary General and other world leaders. There were a few notable exceptions, including the EU, but we still remain on a trajectory of 3-plus degrees C of global warming. 2020 will be a crucial year for most countries to commit to reducing emissions further and faster than ever before.
PREDICTION: A major celebrity joins the global call for climate action, engaging millions of fans to participate and using music as a way to inspire change.
TRUE: In April, rapper Lil Dicky released a new song, “Earth,” that earned over 200 million views on YouTube. Other celebrities spoke out about climate change throughout the year, including Meghan and Harry, Kim Kardashian, and actor Harrison Ford.
Seven out of ten is not bad for making predictions, but 2020 is our biggest test yet for all things climate – a forcing moment for the Paris Agreement, the most consequential US election in recent history, and many regions continuing to face worsening climate impacts and environmental destruction, from Australia to Brazil to Alaska.
What do you hope for climate progress in 2020? Let me know in the comments below.