How Voters Can Assess New Climate Plans


Nov 14, 2019

Wooden path with dry and lush landscape on either side, photo by leolintang/Getty Images

Photo by leolintang/Getty Images

This commentary originally appeared on on November 14, 2019.

While the U.S. government has announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, most presidential candidates and many states have proposed climate plans of their own. To help voters assess these plans, many groups offer scorecards focusing on the target date for full decarbonization and the estimated costs, among other factors.

But decarbonization—reducing to zero the greenhouse gas emissions that promulgate climate change—involves transforming deeply uncertain, complex, coupled natural and human systems whose behaviors can be understood only in retrospect, not predicted beforehand.

How then might voters determine if any of these plans can seriously address climate change?

They should look for three overarching attributes:

  • Does the climate plan cover all the bases?
  • Is there a Plan B?
  • Does the plan have a theory of change?

A plan that covers all bases touches every sector of the economy and addresses both climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation issues. Every sector of the economy—transportation, housing, industry, agriculture and energy—spews climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. In turn, a serious climate plan must address every sector.

Our climate also will continue changing even if society manages to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century—and missing that target will bring about even larger changes. A serious climate plan then not only aims to reduce emissions, it also looks to build resilience to unavoidable future change.…

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Robert Lempert is a principal researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and director of the RAND Pardee Center for Longer-Range Global Policy and the Future Human Condition

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