Environment

Like an uncle with a heart condition guzzling cheeseburgers on the way to a physical, two new reports indicate the global economy has not heeded climate scientists’ calls for a carbon diet.

Greenhouse gas emissions have reached record highs as have global average concentrations in the atmosphere, according to the latest reports from the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization.

On its current trajectory, the planet is on track to warm nearly six degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. That much warming will cause mass extinctions, render large parts of the planet uninhabitable, destroy whole ecosystems, displace untold numbers of people with sea level rise and devastate the global economy.

Had serious climate action begun in 2010, the required cuts would have been more gradual. Now, countries’ failures to stop the growth of heat-trapping greenhouse gases necessitate deeper and more drastic cuts to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, according to the latest report from the United Nations.

The U.N. report makes four recommendations to help the United States fall in line with its goals:

  • Introduce regulations on power plants, clean energy standards and carbon pricing to achieve an electricity supply that is 100 percent carbon-free;

  • Implement carbon pricing on industrial emissions;

  • Strengthen vehicle and fuel economy standards to be in line with zero emissions for new cars in 2030;

  • Implement clean building standards so that all new buildings are 100 percent electrified by 2030.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration formally announced the United States is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, shrugging off the burden to act onto cities like Louisville.

Louisville has its work cut out for it.

Today, about 99 percent of Louisville’s electricity comes from Louisville Gas & Electric burning fossil fuels. About two-thirds of LG&E’s generating capacity comes from coal, and another third comes from natural gas.

LG&E plans on reducing emissions 70 percent from 2010 levels by 2050. However, most of LG&E’s coal-fired power plants have a remaining lifespan of 30 years.

Much like the U.N., Louisville’s Office of Advanced Planning and Sustainability has called for updating building codes to make new buildings more efficient, but state law forbids cities from enacting codes more stringent than the state’s.

But Louisville is one of more than 150 U.S. cities that has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the same amount countries agreed on in the Paris Accords — 80 percent by 2050.

If Louisville wants to become a leader in the transition to decarbonize the economy, it needs to phase out the use of coal, electrify transportation, reduce emissions from energy intensive industry and avoid future emissions while improving energy access, according to the report.

To do it, the report recommends the city commit to using renewable energy, support the use of distributed energy (like rooftop solar systems) and subsidies that incentivize the growth of renewables.

The city is again considering a resolution to transition the city to 100 percent renewable energy in the coming decades. The goal is to commit the city to a scheduled transition reaching 100 percent renewable energy for city operations by 2030 and the entire community by 2040.

The Metro Council’s Parks and Sustainability Commissions has been considering the resolution, listening to climate activists, sustainability experts and LG&E.

The resolution first was first assigned to the committee August 10. It was tabled for fifth time on November 14.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.