Carbon neutrality informs U.S. elections, impacts members

Climate change is shaping up to be an important topic leading up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election. In 2017, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement at the earliest date possible, which is Nov. 4, the day after the election. Recently, Democratic candidate Joe Biden introduced his Clean Energy Revolution plan that outlines his approach to achieving a 100 percent clean-energy economy and net-zero emissions – or carbon neutrality – by 2050.

A little background

As a reminder, the goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels to reduce the risks and effects of climate change. The 189 parties to the agreement also committed to pursue efforts to further limit the increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F) for an even great impact. Only Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Eritrea, Libya, South Sudan and Yemen, which together represent 3.64 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, have yet to ratify the accord. For comparison, the U.S., at 13 percent, is the second largest emitter of GHGs, after China.

GHG emissions are the largest driver of global warming. More than 90 percent are carbon dioxide and methane generated by burning fossil fuels. Agricultural emissions and deforestation also contribute. Achieving carbon neutrality by reducing emissions to net-zero by 2050 would limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F), according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Net-zero emissions, or carbon neutrality, can be achieved in two ways:

  1. Switching from fossil fuels to clean or renewable energy from solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal sources and renewable natural gas from waste materials, as well as adding hydrogen into natural gas pipelines.
  2. Removing or sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by capturing and storing it in saline aquifers, ocean water, aging oil fields and other carbon sinks.
State efforts toward carbon neutrality continue

In response to President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, governors from 24 states and Puerto Rico, representing 55 percent of the U.S. population, formed the United States Climate Alliance (USCA) to accelerate the deployment of climate solutions consistent with the Paris Agreement. The USCA focuses on seven priority sectors. Those that most directly impact NAFEM members are product energy-efficiency standards and reducing short-lived climate pollutants like hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Already, members have been actively involved with efforts to regulate the use of HFCs in California, Colorado, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island have pledged to implement similar regulations.

At the same time, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works is reviewing comments from NAFEM and others on the federal American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act that will drive toward carbon neutrality through a uniform federal phase down on the use of HFCs across all states over the next 15 years. In its comments, NAFEM said “The Act helps our industry maintain its technology leadership, which in turn helps American manufacturers expand their share of the global market.”

What can members expect?

Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, the U.S. is expected to continue marching toward carbon neutrality, either at the state or federal level. NAFEM members on both the hot- and cold-sides are impacted by these decisions.

“Change is coming to the energy industry that will profoundly impact the commercial foodservice equipment industry, said Frank Johnson, Ph.D., research and development manager, residential and commercial foodservice, GTI. “Many existing technologies are not designed to meet future efficiency and emissions goals associated with reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The technologies that do exist usually come with a cost premium that is very difficult for restaurants to absorb. With changes to the energy supply chain such as renewable electricity, renewable natural gas and hydrogen blending, the key will be developing cost-effective new technologies and educating foodservice professionals on how to efficiently and safely use energy to cook food, light dining rooms and maintain a comfortable temperature for customers.