2030: The Year of Tarred Unicorns, Oil-Spill Rainbows
It's impossible to keep track of all of Rhode Island's climate goals and promises
August 24, 2023
2030 is the year everything magically changes; at least, that is the belief embraced by politicians and the fossil fuel industry as they sail the oil can down the flooded road.
Besides being a nice roundish number, 2030 was likely chosen as The Year of Liberation because it was close enough to seem reasonable and far enough away to keep the status quo happy. (This piece is not intended to diminish the work of countless individuals, activists, scientists, organizations, and nonprofits and some elected officials who have been working honestly and tirelessly to mitigate the climate crisis. It’s about the scam being run by those who wield the power, at the international, national, and state levels.)
In the meantime, as we wait for 2030’s promises, goals, and mandates — which will likely be ignored or unenforced — to materialize, some of this has happened:
“The last 35 years have been a period of intense and continuous international negotiations to deal with climate change. During the same period of time humanity has doubled the amount of anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” according to a white paper published July 19.
All of the climate summits, accords, and agreements essentially provide a smokescreen for Western countries/the Global North to continue business as usual. An oil industry executive has been named president of the 2023 U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP28) in the United Arab Emirates scheduled for later this year.
The rich get richer and lawmakers get reelected. Little changes. (The exception: the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty signed in 1987 to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of substances that are responsible for ozone depletion. It worked. But 36 years later, 21st-century robber barons no longer have the appetite to interfere in their free market for the sake of the greater good.)
Now six-plus years until all those press release-hyped efforts to mitigate the climate crisis are to come to fruition, those who profit are already backtracking. So far this year: BP has scaled back its goal of lowering its emissions by 35% by 2030, saying it will aim for a 20% to 30% cut instead; ExxonMobil has withdrawn funding for a heavily publicized effort to use algae to create low-carbon fuel, and its CEO has said his company plans to double the amount of oil produced from its U.S. shale holdings within the next five years; and Shell announced it wouldn’t increase its investments in renewable energy, despite promises to dramatically slash its emissions.
Timmons Roberts, professor of environmental studies and sociology at Brown University, told The Guardian in July that the fossil fuel industry’s ploy all along was to avoid being governed.
“The climate commitments … were almost certainly made to give the impression that they don’t need to be regulated because their voluntary pledges are adequate,” he is quoted.
In the same story, Dan Cohn, a global energy transition researcher at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, noted the industry’s climate plans should not be taken at face value.
“They have left no doubt that their pledges were deployed for cynical political purposes, only to be ditched when they no longer suited the industry’s strategic position,” he said.
The fossil fuel industry, however, hardly stands alone in spouting pledges for cynical political purposes.
In Rhode Island, legislation was filed that mandated all new cars sold or leased in Rhode Island by 2030 had to be electric. It has since been pushed to 2035. In January 2020, an executive order was signed for advancing a 100% renewable electricity future for Rhode Island by 2030. Two years later, the General Assembly enacted the Renewable Energy Standard of 100% by 2033. The legislation institutes annual increases in the state’s Renewable Energy Standard, the law that requires utility companies to buy renewable energy certificates representing a certain percentage of the power they sell annually.
Before 2030 was anointed The Year, 2025 was briefly it. An unenforceable 2015 executive order called on Rhode Island to “Lead by Example” in energy efficiency and cleaner energy, by calling on state government to obtain 100% renewable energy by 2025, state agencies to reduce energy use by 10% by 2019, and the state fleet to purchase a minimum of 25% zero-emissions vehicles by 2025.
After five years of implementation, Rhode Island state government reduced its energy consumption by 11.3%, according to the Office of Energy Resource’s 2020 Lead by Example Energy Initiative report.
Robert Beadle, OER’s chief public affairs officer, said 95% of state government electricity use is from renewable energy. “We expect to get to 100% by the end of 2024 once our next electricity contract is negotiated,” he wrote in a recent email to ecoRI News.
Beadle noted about 10% of the state fleet is currently considered zero-emissions.
“The state recommends that agencies replace light-duty vehicles after 10 years or 100K miles,” he wrote. “Because the State continues to replace traditionally fueled vehicles with a greater percentage of zero-emission vehicles, we believe we are on track to meet the new EO goal of 25% of the total fleet being (zero-emission vehicles) by 2030.”
In early May, Gov. Dan McKee signed an updated Lead by Example executive order directing any state agency with 15 or more employees to appoint a Lead by Example coordinator and to collaborate with OER’s Lead by Example program, to lower state energy consumption. The order also set more targets for “state agency fossil fuel emissions reductions, site energy use intensity reductions, use of zero-emission vehicles, and installation of electric vehicle charging stations.”
It is virtually impossible to keep track of all of the state’s climate-related goals and promises. It’s largely show (executive orders; resolutions; task forces; and bill-signing ceremonies) — with little substance (laws that go unenforced or underenforced, unless they somehow prey upon a powerless individual; important work that goes unfunded, think EC4 until this year, when it finally received $1.5 million to lead the state’s efforts to mitigate the climate crisis; and taxpayer-funded reports and studies that are ignored because they support bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure or public transit).
There is never enough money to do the right and just thing.
By the end of last year, Rhode Island, nearly two years after the Act on Climate was signed into law, was in danger of missing its first big emissions reduction mandate. The state’s Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4), the supergroup of cabinet-level department heads created in 2014 to lead state climate policy, released its status report indicating that, even if the state adopted some aggressive climate policy measures, it could miss its 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reduction mandate by as much as half a million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.
Nationally, the same kind of promises, goals, and targets, held together with duct tape, are focused on 2030 — and beyond.
In early 2021, the White House created the National Climate Task Force, another body made up of cabinet-level officials, to work together on “groundbreaking goals:” reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50%-52% below 2005 levels in 2030; reach 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035; achieve a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.
The White House webpage also notes President Biden worked with E.U. counterparts “to rally more than 100 countries to join the Global Methane Pledge, a new partnership to reduce super-polluting methane emissions 30% from 2020 levels by 2030.”
Having goals is great. Pledges are nice. Passing bills is gratifying. What is needed, however, are laws that are actually enforced and international agreements that have tangible incentives and/or sanctions.
The next president, for example, could simply remove the United States from the Global Methane Pledge.
What is needed are swift actions now — from world leaders; federal, state, and local government; the corporate world; the business community; institutes of higher learning; and individuals.
We know what needs to be done: drastically and quickly reduce the burning of fossil fuels. We need to stop electing and reelecting people who bow to the filthy rich as we all choke on their black gold.
If we don’t start electing people who understand the dire situation we are in and more of us don’t start demanding real action now, this is what all those pledges, press releases, and promises will produce:
A U.N. report published last October found the (unenforceable) combined climate commitments of the 193 parties under the 2015 Paris Agreement — an agreement the previous occupant of the White House pulled us from — would actually increase greenhouse gas emissions by 10.6% by 2030, compared to 2010 levels.
Frank Carini can be reached at [email protected]. His opinions don’t reflect those of ecoRI News.