Can the U.S. Meet Green New Deal Emissions Targets?

At the Kleinman Center, we are launching research into the Green New Deal, exploring its tenets and providing an assessment of our country’s potential to meet the emissions targets it outlines.

The Green New Deal (GND) has captured the public imagination and mobilized many advocates and critics. Vox writer and Kleinman Center Senior Fellow David Roberts provides an excellent discussion in a recent post.

At the Kleinman Center, we are launching our own research into the GND, gathering a cross-disciplinary team to explore its tenets and provide an assessment of our country’s potential to meet the emissions targets it outlines.

The GND calls for the transformation of the U.S economy and society. Indeed, the comparison to U.S. mobilization for World War II is a significant understatement. That mobilization sought only to concentrate the U.S. economy; not to permanently transform it.

The motivation for the ambitious transformation envisioned by the GND is grounded in both science and politics. It first lays out seven “Whereas” clauses to define the problem.

The first Whereas summarizes key findings from two key scientific reviews: (1) the ‘‘Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C’’ by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (October 2018) and (2) the Fourth National Climate Assessment by the U.S Government (November 2018). These two documents continue the accumulation of scientific evidence over decades on the urgent need to decarbonize the economy in order to avoid the catastrophic and irreversible impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.

The second Whereas introduces an important ethical dimension to the problem statement by asserting that U.S.’s responsibility for the global concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases is proportional to its share of historical (rather than current) emissions. The remaining five Whereas clauses introduce a large number of “related crises” and longstanding failings in American society.

While the urgency of these calls for justice is clear, it is just as clear that justice been delayed delayed for decades or centuries. The urgency of the climate science, however, defined by physics, exists with no regard for ethics or politics. Sea level will rise whether the U.S. rises to its democratic ideals or not.

In our Penn study, we will review the research literature related to the design, implementation, and performance of policies and programs outlined in the Green New Deal and we will estimate a range of potential emissions reductions that might be generated by each. In this, we seek to follow the useful example of Kleinman Center Visiting Scholar Jesse Jenkins and others. We will then assess other elements of the GND that might generate indirect benefits in or potential barriers to emissions reductions. We take seriously these other proposals, related to economic inclusion and social justice, both for their intrinsic value and as potential enablers of emissions reductions. Finally, we will suggest additional areas of research and proposals that are missing, and that might increase the potential for meeting GND goals.       

Ours is a narrow filter. We look only at the science-based climate goals and potential of the “projects” under discussion with respect to those goals. The literature provides valuable evidence on what we know about the impacts of policies and programs on these goals—and as important—what we don’t know and must investigate further.  We look forward to marshaling and publishing that evidence here on our website.

Mark Alan Hughes

Faculty Co-Director
Mark Alan Hughes leads the Kleinman Center as faculty co-director and writes on topics ranging from deep decarbonization to the future of Philadelphia’s energy landscape. He is also a professor of practice at the Weitzman School.