The recent Republican presidential debate did little to allay the growing concerns of many GOP voters about the lack of serious conversation among party leaders regarding climate change. When asked about it, the candidates largely bickered among themselves and trotted out rehearsed talking points. Developing a coherent policy framework for addressing climate change will strengthen our economy, bolster our national security, and help the GOP at the ballot box.
While the left often engages in climate hysteria, climate denial is equally unproductive. We believe the extremes present a false choice for America. Although we do not believe the rise of CO2 emissions is an immediate worldwide crisis, it is a potential future crisis. Sea level rise stands out as one notable example. Estimates of potential sea level rise caused by global warming range from a few feet to over 200 feet, a level that adaptation measures alone cannot handle. A recent study estimated the global economic harm caused by sea level rise in a “business as usual” scenario could exceed $14.2 trillion by the end of the century, a devastating burden in both human and economic terms.
We propose a climate policy that seeks to mitigate these risks while promoting American energy security, national security, and economic competitiveness. We argue that putting America first actually puts climate first. For example, the United States economy is three times more carbon efficient than China’s and four times as efficient as Russia’s. It is past time to name China as the world’s leading polluter and demand change from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Concurrently, the U.S. can boost its economic and national interests while continuing to slash its global emissions.
Our climate policy agenda rests on three pillars: promoting advanced low-carbon energy, domestic mining and manufacturing, and clean U.S. fossil fuel extraction.
We must further develop cheap low-carbon wind, solar and nuclear power aided by federal support, including permitting reform. Wind and solar power costs have dropped precipitously over the past decade to the point where they are less expensive than fossil fuel-based power, depending on location. A more sophisticated high-voltage direct current (HVDC) grid system would facilitate higher concentrations of renewable energy into our power mix — and lower consumer costs even more. Increasing our energy storage capability will enable further scaling of these resources.
Nuclear energy, especially small modular reactors, offers highly reliable clean energy production at scale and is indispensable to a low-carbon energy portfolio. Permitting reform is essential to removing the roadblocks to expanding and modernizing our nuclear fleet, as well as adding more solar and wind power to the grid.
The U.S. should pass a “Future Energy Act” modeled on the “Chips Act” — spurring domestic mining and processing of critical minerals and rare earth elements (REE). These materials are essential to scaling manufacturing of solar, battery and wind technologies. At the same time, America can work with allies, such as Australia and Denmark, that have significant REE deposits.
Failure to mine and manufacture at home will leave us needlessly dependent on the CCP, since China produces most REE and refines 90 percent of them. China also emits more than the entire developed world; the U.S. has reduced more emissions than the entire developed world. The U.S. must push China to decrease CO2 pollution to low U.S. levels immediately, preferably on a GDP parity basis. Appropriate trade sanctions, tariffs and other tools should be used to bring China into compliance.
Fossil fuels are indispensable for the foreseeable future. As the energy transition proceeds, we must remember that America extracts, refines and employs fossil fuels more cleanly than anyone. Inhibiting domestic production does not lower international fossil demand — it only increases our reliance on OPEC at a higher emissions cost to fill the gap while our security and prosperity suffer.
There are two viable pathways for the U.S. to offset CO2 emissions from fossil fuels: carbon sequestration and storage (CCS) and direct air capture and storage (DACS).
CCS, which can be deployed on a wide variety of fossil fuel emitting sources, is commercially available and will become cheaper with scale. DACS is even more intriguing because it enables CO2 to be extracted directly from the atmosphere without connecting to a fossil fuel source. Both technologies should enjoy strong federal support, including tax incentives and federal research grants.
This three-pronged policy agenda addresses the risk of rising CO2 emissions while advancing our short- and long-term national interests. At the next Republican debate on September 27th, we hope the candidates give better answers about how conservatives can protect both America and our planet’s future.
Robert O’Brien served as the 27th US National Security Advisor from 2019-2021. Neil Auerbach is founder and CEO of Hudson Sustainable Group, an investor in sustainable energy, and is a former partner of Goldman Sachs. Neil is a senior advisor for the American Conservation Coalition.