Obama's 30% carbon target isn't as important as the trend it represents

coal emissions photo
CC BY-ND 2.0 dmytrok

When President Obama announced his plans for the most ambitious action the US has taken so far to combat climate change, most environmentalists cheered. Those cheers were tempered, however, by the knowledge that however ambitious these targets are, they still don't match the scale of emissions cuts that many scientists are urging to avoid catastrophe.

But that's not the point.

Government-led targets and mechanisms are only one piece of a much broader puzzle. What this new plan represents is a significant, sizable tilt of the playing field making it more favorable (or, at least, less unfavorable) to clean energy. I doubt that in 2030 the energy sector will have neatly arranged itself around the percentages of coal versus gas versus nukes versus renewables that anyone—not even the President—is advocating today. There's every reason to believe we are getting close to profound, disruptive change in the energy sector that could take us well beyond a 30% cut. But a plan for a 30% cut helps move us just a little bit closer.

With solar prices falling precipitously and battery storage technology beginning to make its presence felt, bankers are already thinking twice about investing heavily in fossil fuel dependent utilities. This latest announcement is just one more data point among many that will influence tides that are beyond any of our control.

Let's not get complacent, however. Nothing in this world is inevitable, except death and (carbon?) taxes of course. While China considers expanding carbon trading, Australia seems intent on letting the world burn and, sadly, the Brits appear to be doing their best to cast doubt on some of the most impressive commitments to climate action out there.

Should it get enacted, President Obama's plan is a huge step in the right direction. Now we need to keep on walking.

Obama's 30% carbon target isn't as important as the trend it represents
A 30% CO2 cut might not be ambitious enough to avert catastrophe, but that's not the real point.

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