An Ambitious Climate Plan that Doesn’t Waste Time on False Solutions

PFPI is proud to have participated in developing the Vision for Equitable Climate Action (VECA) released this spring by members of the US Climate Action Network (USCAN). The VECA platform is the product of a two-year collaborative process involving more than 175 activists from more than 106 organizations across the country, many of them grassroots groups on the front lines of the climate crisis.

The VECA platform is noteworthy for its broad scope, ambitious goals, detailed policy recommendations, and deep commitment to climate justice and equity. Declaring “there is no more time for incrementalism, delay, or half-measures,” it packs a lot of climate solutions into only 32 pages. David Roberts, who covers the climate change and energy beat for Vox, praised the plan as “surprisingly substantial.”

The VECA notes that “Effective responses to the climate crisis have been hindered by the corrupting influence of fossil‐fuel and extractive‐industry money in politics, by a lack of political will and power to implement equitable and bold solutions, and by fractured organizing.” It urges the climate movement to unite around policy solutions that protect our communities, are centered in equity and justice, and exceed the US goals originally put forward in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Biomass Energy a “False Solution”

On forest biomass energy, VECA is crystal clear: “Stop false solutions such as industrial‐scale bioenergy, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), and other forest and biogenic carbon offset schemes that deliver neither sufficient long‐term emissions cuts nor environmental and climate justice” (p. 20).

Policy recommendations related to forests and biomass energy are integrated throughout the platform. The most detailed treatment of bioenergy is found in the sections on electricity and “Drawdown, Negative Emissions, Forest Protection, and Other Natural Solutions.” However, even where not mentioned explicitly, such as in the sections on transportation, buildings, and manufacturing, the commitment to energy efficiency, zero-emission energy sources, and pollution reduction leaves little to no room for bioenergy.

Biomass energy is a cross-cutting issue that is addressed in some fashion in virtually every section of the VECA platform:

  • ELECTRICITY: The plan calls for 100% renewable energy by 2030, and explicitly excludes wood‐burning power plants and garbage incinerators from the definition of renewable energy due to their adverse health, climate, environmental and social justice impacts. The plan demands that renewable energy subsidies for these technologies be eliminated and warns against developing new renewable energy policies that include biomass fuels with no limitations (pages 6-7).
  • TRANSPORTATION: The plan is designed to achieve zero emissions from the surface transportation sector, and low to zero emissions in the shipping and aviation sectors, by 2050 (pages 7-9).
  • MANUFACTURING AND INDUSTRIAL PROCESSES: Among other things, the VECA encourages waste reduction, recycling, remanufacturing, and reuse as part of a “circular economy” (page 10).
  • AGRICULTURE: The plan advances environmentally sound and climate‐friendly regenerative agricultural practices, including reforesting areas that were previously deforested to support grazing (pages 11-12).
  • BUILDINGS: The plan prioritizes home weatherization and energy efficiency for existing buildings and calls for new buildings to operate completely on electricity, including for heating and cooling, by 2025, and retrofitting of older buildings by 2050 (pages 14-16).
  • HEALTH: Climate solutions must improve all people’s health, including clearing the air, improving land and water quality, and expanding tree canopies and green space (page 17).
  • PHASING OUT FOSSIL FUELS: The VECA plan asserts “It is imperative that we do not transition to fossil fuel replacements that emit even more greenhouse gases than fossil fuel sources” (pages 27-28).
  • DRAWDOWN, NEGATIVE EMISSIONS, FOREST PROTECTION, AND OTHER NATURAL SOLUTIONS: The VECA platform relies on natural solutions to draw down atmospheric CO2 as much as possible, rather than experimental technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS). To this end, the VECA platform calls for protecting, restoring and enhancing natural ecosystems, particularly forests, wetlands and oceans; halting the conversion of natural forests to plantations; and accurate and transparent accounting of carbon emissions in the forestry, land use, bioenergy and marine sectors (pages 19-20).

The VECA specifically adopts the Stand4Forests platform on forest protection:
“The U.S. must immediately scale up forest protection, rewild and restore degraded forests, reduce consumption, and transition to truly clean, renewable energy before it is too late. Standing forests draw enormous amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere and store it long‐term in trees and soils. To avoid climate catastrophe, we must rethink the way we value forests. Forests help provide a cost‐effective solution to the threat of climate change and create healthier, more resilient communities, ecosystems, and economies.”

  • ADAPTATION: The VECA platform calls for an immediate halt to development in climate‐vulnerable areas that risks worsening the vulnerability of communities, such as development in flood‐prone areas, forests, and wetlands, and the implementation of natural adaptation measures including measures to protect, restore, connect, and expand intact native forests, to buffer against chronic flooding, support aquifer replenishment, and provide corridors for species migration (pages 21-23).
  • JUST TRANSITION: The VECA platform calls for developing just economic transition strategies not only for communities dependent on fossil fuel and other extractive industries, but also those dependent on extractive forest economies, particularly indigenous communities, communities of color, economically disadvantaged communities, and rural communities. This includes providing more options and incentives for landowners and municipalities to maintain forests and other natural ecosystems for their carbon sequestration and resiliency benefits (page 20).
  • GREENHOUSE GAS PRICING: Environmental and environmental justice groups are deeply divided over carbon pricing. The VECA platform identifies a number of stringent requirements that any carbon pricing proposal would have to meet in order for it to belong in the VECA, including requiring that a carbon price cover all greenhouse gas emissions, including from non-fossil‐based fuels such as forest biomass and trash (pages 27-28).
  • GEOENGINEERING: This section discusses the potential risks of geoengineering strategies such as solar radiation management and direct air capture technologies and reiterates that our priority is to use natural solutions to draw down atmospheric carbon as much as possible (pages 29-30).
  • GLOBAL ISSUES AND RESPONSIBILITIES: The final section of the VECA document urges the US to step up and do its fair share in the global effort to stabilize the climate system. This includes rejoining the Paris Agreement, making substantial monetary and technological contributions to the global effort, and reducing emissions 70% by 2030. Among other steps, the VECA platform states that “The U.S. must also immediately end all public financing and subsidy of fossil energy and deforestation, both within its borders and throughout the world” (pages 30-32).

Above all, the VECA document is a passionate call to action, with solutions that can be put into practice at the local, state, and federal level:

“We are nearly out of time, especially for those most vulnerable, who are already losing their lives and their livelihoods. We must act immediately and at emergency speed. The window to meet this challenge with adequate solutions is closing – not just for those most vulnerable, but for us all.”

 

Partnership for Policy Integrity