In April 2021, the United States announced its plan to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50–52% from 2005 levels and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The critical components of President Biden’s plan to implement these targets include passing the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BILBIL 0.0%), which are expected to unlock investments into clean energy technologies and improve U.S. economic competitiveness, innovation, and industrial productivity.
More recently, complementary measures such as the national target of 50% electric vehicle sales share in 2030, 100% carbon pollution-free electricity production by 2035 and the U.S. Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan have also been adopted to decarbonise the transportation, electricity and industrial sectors, which are 28%, 25% and 23% of U.S.’s overall emissions, respectively.
However, based on Rhodium Group’s latest report that evaluated the U.S.’s pathways to achieving its climate targets following the passing of the IRA and BIL congressional bills stated the U.S. is on track for a 32-42% reduction in GHG emissions below 2005 levels in 2030—bending the U.S. emissions curve down toward deeper decarbonisation, but still not enough to achieve the 50-52 per cent reduction from 2005 levels targets announced by President Biden.
Key findings from Rhodium Group’s report highlight that new laws have to be fully implemented, which contain a suite of regulations designed to curb pollution from cars, power plants, and factories to lower clean energy costs, along with new federal pollution standards.
In a series of interviews, leading experts provide insights into how agricultural innovation, sustainable infrastructure development in cities, and green upskilling can play a key role in helping the U.S. reduce its GHG emissions to 2030 targets.
In the United States, agriculture accounted for 10% of total GHG emissions in 2021. Since 1990, U.S. GHG emissions have decreased by just over 2%, while agricultural emissions have increased by 7%. Rhodium Group’s climate modelling shows that the sector’s share of U.S. emissions could top 15% by 2030, as emissions are likely to remain flat.
A new report from the Environmental Defense Fund notes that for the U.S. to meet its 2030 climate goals, the agriculture sector’s GHG emissions must be cut by 25% and carbon dioxide removals from forests increased by 43% from 2018 levels. Technological innovation will be required to address the sector’s main GHG emissions: methane and nitrous oxide. Most methane emissions are driven by livestock (via enteric fermentation and manure), while crop and grassland fertilisation is the primary source of nitrous oxide
Nancy Pfund, founder and managing partner at DBL Partners, says that, to reduce the food and agriculture sector’s GHG emissions while feeding a growing population, “it will be essential that the U.S. shift to low-carbon farming practices like regenerative agriculture, which have the potential to eliminate 250 million metric tons of CO2 per year, equivalent to 5% of U.S. emissions. Pairing these sustainable practices with the adoption of new technologies can accelerate the path to net-zero agriculture”. Pfund notes, for instance, precision spraying, such as a bolt-on system developed by Greeneye Technology, can reduce herbicide usage by as much as 90% while reducing costs for farmers.
But reducing GHG emissions while increasing production requires investment. PwC’s State of Climate Tech Report 2022 notes that the agriculture, food, and land use sector received 12% of global venture funding but contributed 22% of global GHG emissions in 2019
At a time when the climatetech sector is generally seeing a dip in venture financing, the development of new technological solutions (Chart 3) is critical to reaching U.S. climate targets and addressing the growing concern about rising global temperatures.
As a result, according to Pfund, “the U.S. will need big sustainable agriculture companies to emerge and build fundamentally more efficient and less carbon-intensive supply chains. For these companies to have real staying power, it is essential to prioritise building solutions that are low-carbon and compelling for farmers, regardless of their political beliefs and stance on climate”.
Based on the Stanford Law and Bezos Earth Fund Report on Climate-Smart Agriculture, an essential way of advancing sustainable growth in agriculture is by improving the limited public data currently available on measuring and monitoring agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. government has started recognizing the importance of this and allocated $300 million to the Department of Agriculture to quantify, monitor, and track climate benefits via field-based data.
According to Pfund, “if we can’t track these emissions, it’s difficult to validate the climate benefits of low-carbon agricultural practices so that we can deploy them at scale.” Pfund notes, “we also need policymakers to help improve confidence in the validity of regenerative agriculture solutions and put guardrails in place for a functioning market so that we can reward farmers for their environmental stewardship while helping companies decarbonise existing operations to meet net-zero commitments”.
Advance policies to promote sustainable infrastructure development in cities
In 2021, more than 100 U.S. cities pledged to halve emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2050. But a recent study of the U.S.’s 38 biggest cities reveals that only about 20 are on track to reach their 2050 climate goals. With nearly three-quarters of the carbon dioxide generated from fossil fuels in the United States coming from cities, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy notes that cities must track their GHG emissions data, leverage technological solutions, and promote electrification in the transportation and building sectors.
Sonam Velani is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Streetlife Ventures, a venture fund that invests at the intersection of cities and climate. She says that “U.S. cities have set strong targets.” Nevertheless, in order to progress, Velani often recalls the wise words of former Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto: you’ve got to remove the red tape and roll out the red carpet for more sustainable solutions.
For instance, Colorado’s General Assembly created an e-bike rebate program, which allowed cities such as Denver to incentivise residents to reduce gas vehicle trips. In 2022, this initiative cut 2,040 metric tons of carbon dioxide and saved $1 million in fuel and electricity costs, showcasing an effective mechanism for reducing transportation emissions.
But the U.S. needs to catch up to its peers for large-scale infrastructure projects to electrify significant parts of the transportation sector, such as railways and metro systems. Data gathered by New York University’s Marron Institute of Urban Management (Chart 4) shows that the cost of building subways in the U.S. tends, on average, to be three times that in other countries.
“Our subways are at the top of the league tables for the wrong reason – they are the most expensive in the world, by a mile!” says Velani, a longtime transit aficionado and New York City infrastructure specialist. For example, New York’s East Side Access tunnel project costed $3.5 billion for each new mile of track — seven times the average elsewhere in the world, with construction and consulting costs comprising 50% and 45% of the total costs, respectively.
Velani says, “Given the demand to decarbonise our transportation systems, expand our metros to underserved communities, and provide more options for residents, transit agencies need to move smarter and faster. This includes streamlining permitting processes and building in-house capabilities rather than outsourcing work to consultants because it will enable more efficient use of funds from the IRA and IIJA – it’s all about how far every dollar can go, figuratively and literally.”
Alongside, Velani suggests that transport agencies should develop design standards and create the capacity to construct components off-site to reduce repetitive work and allow multiple parts of the project to move forward in tandem.
“Once you build the subway, you have to make sure people enjoy riding the subway. That is part and parcel of the mode-shift conversation,” explains Velani. “Cities will benefit from developing an integrated payment system that factors in end-to-end journeys via different modes of transport, ultimately creating a seamless user experience across sustainable transportation modes.”
Green upskilling will be key to technological development and decarbonisation efforts
According to McKinsey & Company, the development of climate technologies is critical for countries to meet their net-zero challenges. Between 2019 and 2022, the United States saw strong growth in climatetech investments, adding $6–$8 billion of venture capital funding annually and attracting an average of 47% of all global climatetech venture funding.
For the U.S. to take advantage of net-zero economic opportunities by developing globally competitive climatetech solutions, particularly in the manufacturing of electric vehicles (EVs) and renewable energy, bridging the skills gaps will be critical. Nearly 40% of U.S. energy jobs are net-zero-aligned, and boosting U.S. productivity represents a $10 trillion opportunity in the era of energy transition.
However, LinkedIn’s latest report shows the U.S. lagging behind other auto manufacturing leaders in EV skills acquisition, with only 3.7% of auto workers (about half the U.K.’s percentage) possessing EV skills. Moreover, 13 million jobs in the U.S. are highly vulnerable to climate extremes and economic transition impacts. This highlights the urgency of advanced planning and retraining to ensure workers find new jobs in a net-zero economy.
Dr. Kamal Kapadia, co-founder and chief learning officer at Terra.do, says, “as technology has evolved over time, so have the jobs, which calls for retraining and building new skilling. Given the pace at which we need to transition to a zero-carbon economy, and the high-skilled nature of green jobs like battery manufacturing and carbon accounting, it will be important for industry to define roles and the skills needed so educational institutions and programs can develop the right training”.
The U.S. has sought to unlock investments in clean energy technologies and improve economic competitiveness in sectors such as EV and battery manufacturing through the IRA and BIL. Other countries and regions have implemented similar measures and put forward plans to improve their labor productivity for a net-zero economy. Given that 72% of U.S. commuting zones rich in pollution-intensive jobs are also rich in green jobs, the IMF has found that climate literacy and upskilling are crucial to enabling workers to transition into green jobs
Kapadia adds that, for these reasons, “the government needs to promote basic climate literacy across the economy and provide incentives so companies can upskill their workers. A skilled and climate-literate workforce will enable U.S. companies to attract the capital needed to build and implement decarbonisation solutions”.
Source : Forbes