Getting Real About the Green New Deal

Yes, we need to move urgently. But we’ve learned a lot about how to do that since the 1930s.

By Jason Bordoff

Tagged Climate ChangeInequalityPolicypolitics

We’ve come a long way since Ken Bone.

In the three presidential debates of 2016, just one question was asked about energy, thanks to the famous red-sweater-wearing undecided voter from Illinois. Not a single question was asked about climate change, and discussion of climate change totaled just five minutes. That was, mind you, five more than in all the 2012 presidential debates.

The 2020 election has just started, and already climate change is a first-tier issue. The Green New Deal, which nearly every prospective Democratic nominee has embraced, has given climate change the urgency the issue deserves, backed by a sweeping agenda that makes an ambitious platform like Bernie Sanders’s embrace of a carbon tax in 2016 suddenly seem feeble.

The Green New Deal should also be celebrated because, unlike most climate plans to date, it actually engages Ken Bone’s question. Mr. Bone, a coal plant worker, asked how we could “meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers.” For far too long, concerns of workers dislocated by climate action have been an afterthought, but the Green New Deal places them front and center, which is both good policy and politics.

Predictably, the right has caricatured the Green New Deal as a socialist scheme to ban airplanes and hamburgers. Still others have attacked it for polarizing the politics of climate change, being too costly or lacking pragmatism. And others have criticized it for going well beyond the remit of climate policy—guaranteeing good-paying jobs, affordable and safe housing, high-quality health care, and much more.

Assessing these attacks requires placing the Green New Deal in the context of the shifting political and planetary contexts of our time. When it comes to government, the share of the American public that favors a more energized and active role has grown sharply. A 2018 NBC/Wall Street Journal survey found 58 percent of Americans agree “government should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people,” an all-time high. And a 2018 Gallup poll found 62 percent of Americans say government is doing too little to help the environment, compared to 46 percent in 2010.

Meanwhile, when it comes to addressing climate change, policy approaches that were pragmatic and “moderate” a decade or two ago are simply no longer adequate. Decades of inaction mean the imperative to act boldly is today far more urgent.

At the same time, the current debate about the Green New Deal presents a false choice between free-market approaches and World War II-style mobilization. Some progressive advocates frame the Green New Deal in backward-looking terms rather than in ways that acknowledge how the economy has changed and government has evolved, and reflect the lessons that have been learned about good policy design since World War II.

The proper measure of climate policy ambition is not size of government programs or spending. The regulatory state that has emerged since World War II provides a range of smarter policy tools. Moreover, experience with those tools has taught that leveraging market incentives and spurring technological innovation will achieve our policy goals more effectively and at lower cost. Government can harness the tremendous innovative potential in the private sector through good policy rather than do the work itself that many creative companies are already doing. At the same time, concerns about environmental justice, just transition, and equity must be elevated in climate policy considerations, as the Green New Deal does—even if the best policies to solve the climate crisis will not also solve our health care, housing, or jobs problems, which must be addressed with their own policy solutions.

As this essay explains, giving meaning to the ambition of the Green New Deal requires policy solutions that embrace both the virtues of our market-based economic system and a more robust role for government to deliver the market outcomes we desire, including social justice and environmental protection.

The Imperative of Climate Action

It is painfully evident that it will be nearly impossible to meet the targets for limiting temperature rise to which nearly all nations have agreed, and the evolving science suggests even those targets may cause harms worse than previously understood.

The planet has already heated up by 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial times. In response, the impacts of climate change are already being felt, including the fastest decline in Arctic sea ice in 1,500 years, more damaging extreme weather events, and rising sea levels.

Left unchecked, from 2000 to 2100, global average temperature increases of 2 to 5 Celsius (3.6 to 9 Fahrenheit) and sea level rise of two to four feet are likely, while much larger increases are possible. Climate change will reduce long-run economic growth and jeopardize national security.

Even if climate goals are achieved, some damage is already baked in. In October, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report detailing the severity of climate change impacts with 1.5 degrees warming, and how much worse they would be with 2 degrees.

At 2 degrees warming, more than one-third of the global population will be exposed to a severe heat event at least once every five years. The arctic will be free of ice once every ten years. The risk of worse and more frequent droughts is significantly higher at 2 degrees than at 1.5 degrees. And the same is true for heavy rains and flooding, GDP growth, species loss, ocean rise, food security, and human health.

Bear in mind that we are nowhere close to being on track to keep warming to 2 degrees, let alone 1.5 degrees, as a recent report from the United Nations Environment Programme makes clear. At current emission rates, the carbon budget to achieve the 1.5 degree target is used up in around 15 years. After that, emissions would need to fall to zero immediately. If emissions begin falling sharply now, achieving 1.5 degrees warming would require that we achieve net zero emissions by around 2050. Zero. Even as we continue to power the world’s rising number of cars, trucks, factories, air conditioners, heating units, lights, refrigerators, appliances, airplanes, ships, computers, and much, much more. Indeed, the amount of carbon dioxide the global population is putting in the atmosphere is still increasing each and every year.

Electric vehicle adoption has been growing rapidly, with the global EV fleet expanding nearly fivefold over the past three years, while battery costs have fallen by 80 percent since 2010. Still, the world consumes around 100 million barrels per day (mbd) of oil, and that volume is projected to rise 1.4 mbd this year. Even under more optimistic projections of EV deployment, oil demand still grows for years to come, as more people in emerging markets own cars and consume more goods delivered by freight trucks and produced with petrochemicals.

Similarly, while renewable energy costs are falling sharply and renewable generation growing rapidly, global electricity demand is outpacing that growth in emerging markets, leading coal use to rise last year as well. Worldwide there are still more than 450 coal plants under construction or planned, two-thirds of them in China, India, and Southeast Asia.

So clean energy costs have fallen and deployment grown more than nearly any expert predicted a decade ago would be possible. And yet, the use of oil, gas, and coal has risen as well. Our climate change conversation often fails to acknowledge that these two things can both be true at the same time. There is much to celebrate in the pace of clean energy progress and reason for optimism about what lies ahead, but that does not mean the world is anywhere close to being on track to achieve its climate targets. Achieving our climate goals means not merely meeting incremental energy demand growth with low-carbon energy, but replacing the roughly 80 percent of the global energy mix today that still comes from fossil fuels, starting with coal.

To limit warming to 2 degrees, emissions would need to start falling rapidly. Achieving 1.5 degrees warming at this point is technically feasible, but for all practical purposes virtually impossible.

Guiding the Invisible Hand: Achieving the Green New Deal Through Our Market-Based Economy 

The Green New Deal should be celebrated for putting a much-needed spotlight on the urgency of the climate challenge. The question, however, is how best to give meaning to its ambition.

The proper measure of climate ambition is not large-scale public works programs or government spending akin to the original New Deal. Such an approach is not only unlikely to be politically feasible, but it is also unlikely to be sufficient to address the climate challenge.

To be sure, more government investment is needed—in mass transit, clean energy R&D, boosting deployment of emerging technologies, and more. But private businesses fund more than 60 percent and perform more than 70 percent of total R&D in the United States, with industry responsible for even larger portions of applied research and product development. And the public funds available for clean energy investments, even ignoring the severe constraints of political feasibility, still pale in comparison to the tens of trillions of dollars in private sector capital that can be deployed. That’s why, for example, Jim Kim feels he can continue to pursue the work he did at the World Bank from his new role at the world’s largest infrastructure private equity firm (he abruptly resigned from the former in January).

Our energy sources and system result not primarily from government actions, but from vast numbers of individual and firm economic decisions—where to live, what kind of car to buy, what kind of car to produce, what kind of factory to build, how efficient to make one’s home or business, and on and on. The government does not make steel or cement, nor produce the energy we use to do so (with a few exceptions).

Government has a very important role to play in the design of our energy system, from regulating utility rates to generating electricity through Power Marketing Administrations and the Rural Utilities Service to leasing federal lands for development, to name just a few. But for the most part, private incentives and investments determine the energy system that we have. This market-based system allows for the dynamism, innovation, and entrepreneurship that is the hallmark of America’s economy.

Governments cannot anticipate today what the best and most cost-effective system will be to achieve net zero-greenhouse gas emissions even as population and economic growth rise. The energy system of the future may consist of a mix of solar, wind, batteries, biofuels, hydrogen, advanced nuclear, carbon capture, negative emission technologies, smart grids, and a range of other existing technologies, along with new ones that may be unknown today.

Moreover, policy approaches that presume to know what the optimal system looks like may suffer unintended consequences. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway Program, itself intended to be a “public-works program on a massive scale,” according to Eisenhower biographer Stephen Ambrose, gave rise to the suburban sprawl and urban decline that policymakers grapple with today. Robert Moses’s master plan for New York City entrenched the car as the primary means of transportation, a yoke the city is still trying get out from under today. The Bureau of Reclamation’s massive water projects, a direct result of the New Deal’s push for massive public works projects, left a legacy of environmental degradation and unsustainable agricultural practices in the American West that trace directly to the water crisis in Western states today.

The New Deal delivered not only massive public works programs, but also regulatory innovations like the Federal Power Commission, since replaced by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The regulatory state that has since developed provides a set of tools on which new policies can build to enable government to better guide what Adam Smith famously called the “invisible hand” toward our shared policy objectives.

An ambitious policy agenda to implement the Green New Deal should embrace the power of market forces, while recognizing that our market-based system must be coupled with a robust and energetic role for government if it is to work effectively, avoid abuse, and provide public goods like defense. Those government policies, then, must be aimed at addressing market failures and achieving our shared social goals, like reducing carbon pollution, as well as remedying past policy interventions that may have disadvantaged clean energy sources.

Alexander Hamilton helped give birth to our modern economy, but he also recognized the need for an energetic federal government role. He famously wrote, “In matters of industry, human enterprise ought doubtless to be left free in the main, not fettered by too much regulation, but practical politicians know that it may be beneficially stimulated by prudent aids and encouragements on the part of government.” His legacy is often erroneously embraced by those who favor more heavy-handed federal industrial policy, but Hamilton was clear that “the extraordinary aid and protection of government” he favored should be temporary and was appropriate for a nation in an early stage of development, not for all countries at all times. “Wherever possible, Hamilton preferred financial incentives to government directives,” writes his biographer Ron Chernow.

Drawing from Hamilton’s insights, a Green New Deal for today’s economic system must combine the wisdom of our market-based system with a better appreciation for the fact that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of letting market forces alone determine outcomes. Whether for social equity or for carbon emissions, a course correction is needed.

Implementing a Green New Deal: The Six Key Elements

So what does that mean for designing climate policy? Today, the Green New Deal is a set of ambitions that include “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions,” a “fair and just transition” for workers, as well as “millions of good, high-wage jobs,” and “high-quality health care,” “affordable, safe and adequate housing,” and “economic security” for all Americans.

Giving meaning to these lofty goals requires concrete and cost-effective policies that leverage rather than reject the strengths of our economic system and reality of energy system. Climate policies should be designed cognizant of social equity priorities, but are still distinct from an economic justice agenda aimed at inequality, health care, housing, and employment. Generous new government programs, for example, may be warranted to achieve the goal of expanding access to affordable housing, but energy-focused policies are needed to affect the choices individuals and firms make about what materials to use in building them, what fuels are used to make the needed steel and concrete, how efficient to make the buildings, and where the electricity to power and heat to warm them comes from.

Government policy surely shapes those individual economic choices—from subsidies for oil and gas or agriculture to federal infrastructure investments to zoning laws. But that’s the point. A Green New Deal policy framework must recognize that our energy system reflects collective individual and firm decisions and economic incentives rather than government planning; and robust government policy must then ensure those economic incentives are aligned with our broader public policy goals.

In practice a Green New Deal should, therefore, comprise a collection of ambitious policies that focus relentlessly on what makes the biggest dent in greenhouse gas emissions (and avoid wasting precious political capital on symbolic or virtue-signaling actions). It should also focus on cost-effectiveness, not only because resources are limited but because lessons from other countries teach us that maintaining public support for robust climate mitigation measures requires minimizing costs to consumers and the economy.

A Green New Deal policy package along these lines would focus on six priorities.

First, policies must transition the United States to a low-carbon energy system. The key policy instrument here is a price on carbon to change investment incentives and production and consumption patterns. Putting a price on carbon can be achieved through different policy instruments, such as a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system. A carbon price would require producers and consumers of energy to internalize the cost to society from climate change damages that result from their energy choices.

A carbon price has many virtues. A carbon price encourages emissions reductions wherever and however they can be achieved most cost-effectively, without needing to know beforehand what the cheapest solutions will be, which is important because the future development and costs of energy technologies cannot be projected with any degree of precision. A carbon price also does not require knowing today what sectors of the economy will deliver the lowest-cost emission reductions. This is particularly important given the tendency in policy to focus on the most visible parts of the energy system, leading to an excessive focus on cars and the power sector, for example, which together produce less than half of U.S. emissions. The power of a well-designed carbon price is that it has a way of reaching into the nooks and crannies of our economic and energy system to achieve reductions that we might not have realized were possible because it gives everyone an incentive to make different choices about how to invest, consume, and produce.

Research by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University finds that a $50 per ton carbon tax that grows over time would reduce emissions in 2030 by between 39 and 46 percent below 2005 levels, and do so at negligible economic cost. Indeed, the impacts on the economy may be positive or negative depending on how the revenue is used, and in no scenario do they exceed 0.5 percent of GDP per year. The costs of climate change impacts due to inaction will be far greater. A carbon tax will raise energy prices for households, including low-income households that can least afford it and that spend a disproportionate share of their income on energy. Concerns about equity highlighted in the Green New Deal, combined with concerns about the political viability of the agenda, argue strongly for the revenue being used to offset the adverse effects of a carbon tax through equal lump-sum rebates to consumers, as recently recommended by a large group of the nation’s leading economists.

Performance standards may also be used, such as requirements for certain levels of efficiency or clean energy in vehicles, buildings, or appliances. These may be justified by various behavioral biases that diminish the impact of a carbon price alone (such as consumer misperceptions of fuel savings when purchasing new vehicles); political economy factors that may keep carbon prices below their socially optimal level; or other market failures (such as principal-agent problems that limit a carbon price’s effectiveness because, for example, a building owner whose renters pay the utility bills will not have an incentive to invest in more efficient appliances or insulation).

Other supporting policies can also remove barriers to implementing the above policies, such as utility regulation reform to promote grid flexibility, competition, and digital technology adoption.

Second, policy should focus on removing CO2 from the atmosphere through natural and technological means. There is almost no plausible scenario at this point for limiting temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5 degrees, that does not include large-scale sequestration of CO2 and also natural and technological tools to achieve negative emissions by removing CO2 from the atmosphere. The Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization prepared by the Obama Administration estimates that land sector and CO2 removal technologies could sequester 30 to 50 percent of economy-wide GHG emissions by 2050.

Creating carbon-based incentives in the land sector would induce landowners and farmers to avoid deforestation and pursue reforestation, or to change agricultural practices on croplands and grazing lands. Ideally, such incentives would be integrated into an economy-wide carbon price, although in practice the scale and complexity of the land sector makes that challenging. As an alternative, other incentive structures can be created that mirror the carbon price to ensure land carbon sequestration opportunities are pursued to achieve overall carbon goals as efficiently as possible. Carefully coupling such programs with mechanisms to accurately monitor and measure land-based emission reductions is a key policy challenge. The federal government should also change its own management practices on federal lands, which comprise 20 percent of the annual U.S. carbon sink. This would include incorporating carbon sequestration and emission estimates into land management plans and environmental reviews, and prioritizing forest restoration and resilience.

In addition to the land carbon sink, a carbon-pricing regime should also include credit for negative emissions achieved through technological means. Bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration is the most mature form of negative emission technology. Direct air capture machines can also remove CO2 from the air, such as the ones being used today at a waste incinerating plant in Switzerland and geothermal field in Iceland. Such technology currently costs about $600 per ton of CO2 abated, although estimates suggest the costs can decline to around $100 or $200 by as early as 2025.

Third, policy must reduce the emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions. One-fifth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from gases other than CO2, such as methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These are highly potent at trapping heat and have more near-term impact because they are short-lived in the atmosphere.

Around one-third of methane emissions come from the oil and gas industry, which has taken steps to reduce methane leaks and committed to go further through bodies like the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative. Government regulation should limit methane emissions to ensure that such measures are taken by all firms and continue to drive further reductions, and industry should advocate for sound methane reduction policies as well, as called for in the Methane Guiding Principles signed by many leading oil and gas companies. In the face of potential rollbacks, a few companies have publicly called for the EPA to continue to regulate methane, most recently Shell, ExxonMobil, and BP at a major industry conference this year. More should follow suit to preserve a level playing field and support reductions industry-wide.

As discussed above, improved agricultural practices can reduce not only CO2, but also non-CO2 gases, notably methane and nitrous oxide, roughly 40 percent of which come from agricultural production. Climate policy should invest in R&D, deploy educational tools, and create economic incentives to reduce non-CO2 gases in agriculture, as well as develop protocols for measuring and verifying reductions in the agricultural sector.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are another potent greenhouse that can be reduced through regulation. The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement of nearly 200 countries to phase out the use of HFCs that has broad industry support, would avoid up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of warming, but has languished as the Trump Administration has refused to submit it to the Senate for ratification.

Fourth, the federal government should sharply increase spending on research and development (R&D) of clean energy technologies, as well as invest in low-carbon energy infrastructure and mass transit. Economists have long recognized that private firms underinvest in R&D relative to the social value of those investments because they cannot capture the full benefits of their innovations. Furthermore, research demonstrates that federal R&D spending generates substantial positive returns and induces more private sector R&D rather than displacing it. Numerous government and industry leaders have called for federal energy R&D spending two to three times as high as today’s levels.

Numerous government and industry leaders have called for federal energy R&D spending two to three times as high as today’s levels.

While the returns are particularly high for early-stage and basic research funding, federal funding may also extend to demonstration and deployment (RDD&D) given the high costs, long-term nature, and risks associated with energy technologies. Improved risk management, accountability, and risk-based cost-sharing practices should accompany such a funding expansion. The Department of Energy Loan Program Office can be better leveraged for investments in technology and infrastructure and attract private investment by lowering the risk profile.

Fifth, U.S. climate policy should prioritize international cooperation and spurring action by other countries. Climate change is the ultimate collective action problem, since a ton of CO2 contributes equally to the problem regardless of where it is emitted. Thus, it makes sense for the United States to incur the cost of decarbonization only if other nations follow suit. The Paris climate agreement was designed with precisely this sort of mechanism in mind, allowing nations to reduce emissions and then reassess every five years whether other nations were doing so as well so that they could collectively ratchet up their ambitions. The United States must reengage in the international climate negotiation process to lead these efforts. Additionally, U.S. domestic policy can be designed to encourage other nations to take stronger actions, for example by including a border adjustment in a carbon price that takes the carbon content of imported goods unless other nations adopt climate policy of similar stringency to our own.

Finally, much more robust policies are needed to help workers who suffer dislocation from a clean energy transition. This imperative extends far beyond the 60,000 Americans who still work in the coal sector, and the Green New Deal should be celebrated for placing issues of a just transition squarely in the center of the climate change debate rather than as an afterthought.

Transition assistance is important as a matter of equity, justice, and good economic policy. Rather than make false promises to bring back the jobs of coal workers, for example, which the Trump Administration has failed to do despite its bluster, policymakers must take more seriously the need to help workers who have powered the U.S. economy for generations, but whose jobs are likely to decline through no fault of their own. Moreover, taking issues of just transition seriously is good politics, as the gilets jaunes protests in Paris remind. Those workers who risk being left behind by a clean energy transition, even if small in number, pose a powerful political obstacle to stronger climate policies unless they have a sense of confidence there will be new opportunities for them in the future.

The policy prescriptions to facilitate necessary transitions extend to a broader set of economic policy measures targeted at workers far beyond just the energy sector. They are also very difficult to design and implement. Despite promises from the federal government for a quarter century to provide worker retraining, education, and other support to help communities displaced by globalization and displacement, both parties have failed to fulfill those promises. Nonetheless, a range of community-driven economic diversification efforts have shown promise. The federal government can support those efforts through infrastructure investments, tax credits, and repurposing of old energy sites like abandoned mine land for other economic uses, as well as fulfilling pension obligations, to name just a few policy options.

All the climate policy interventions described above must also be designed with a much greater prioritization of environmental justice concerns than has been true in the past. One of the greatest failures of environmental policy of the past half century has been that when robust action is taken to make progress reducing air or water pollution, those environmental benefits are not equitably shared. Low-income and minority populations have often ended up bearing the disproportionate share of the cost even when the country is moving more broadly in the right direction on environmental challenges. Public investments made as part of our transition to a lower carbon future, from transportation to smart homes and buildings to urban planning, should increasingly prioritize equity considerations.

At the same time, the best policy framework to solve the urgent problem of climate change is not the same as the set of policies that are needed to address the other very important social and economic priorities identified in the Green New Deal. Good policy design uses the policy instrument most targeted at the problem being addressed. Conflating policy objectives risks undermining the efficacy of any particular policy intervention and delaying action.

Government’s Key Role in Solving Climate Change Isn’t Spending

While the ambition of the Green New Deal has been framed by some as a World War II-style economic mobilization, the robust policy agenda outlined above would lead to dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions without massive government programs or spending. More government spending is certainly needed and important, but it’s not the key metric of success. To support this agenda is not to sacrifice ambition toward decarbonization, nor to let the possible and pragmatic dictate policy while neglecting what climate science makes clear needs to be done.

On the contrary, this policy agenda recognizes that the private-sector capital available to be tapped for energy-sector investments dwarfs even the most ambitious proposals for what government might spend. It recognizes both the reality and wisdom of our market-based economic system to deliver the innovation that will be required to solve the climate challenge, albeit operating under much stronger rules and incentives created by government to achieve that goal. It recognizes that achieving a goal as audacious as decarbonizing the U.S. economy will be met at a much lower cost by embracing the dynamism of our market-based structure.

The $90 billion in clean energy investments made as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 holds some lessons for design of a Green New Deal policy framework. These investments catalyzed rapid growth in renewable energy and demonstrate the value smart government investments can have. At the same time, some of the spending revealed the challenges of designing government programs and risks of unintended consequences. Academic research has shown that the subsidies to weatherize homes delivered only one-third of their projected energy savings. Similarly, incentives to buy more efficient appliances largely subsidized purchases people would have made anyway or caused them just to shift the time in which they made the purchase to get the rebate. The same was true for a program outside the Recovery Act to subsidize the purchase of more fuel-efficient cars and scrap less efficient ones. Moreover, even the successful renewables subsidies did not have the same impact that changes in the price of natural gas did to transition our electricity sector away from coal, demonstrating the power of price signals that affect the incentives faced by every economic actor in our society. Rather than leave such price signals to the market, a Green New Deal policy framework should create them to deliver the low-carbon energy system we need.

A half century ago, extreme smog cloaked Los Angeles and acid rain despoiled American lakes, streams and forests. Solving these problems required not government economic mobilization, but laws and regulations that limited pollution, forcing new practices, consumption patterns, and technologies. Subsequent policy innovation further revealed that the embrace of market-based regulatory tools, such as the cap-and-trade program pioneered to tackle acid rain and incentives for technological innovation, could deliver environmental benefits at much lower costs than command-and-control regulations.

To be sure, the scale and complexity of climate change is far greater. But the ubiquity of greenhouse gas emissions is even more reason why the policy response should create incentives and restrictions that change consumer and producer behaviors and induce new technological developments in the widest range of sectors.


The great British economist Alfred Marshall once spoke of the need for “cool heads but warm hearts” when making policy. A warm heart requires us to acknowledge that our market-based economy today is failing many Americans and that a course correction is badly needed to deliver outcomes that live up to America’s promise of equal opportunity, justice, and inclusive growth. Among the most urgent market failures is the climate change crisis, which demands far more robust and urgent government policy to address it. A cool head requires us to rigorously analyze what government policy interventions in the market will make the greatest dent in greenhouse gas emissions and do so at the lowest costs possible.

As outlined above, policy that can meaningfully reduce emissions includes limiting or pricing pollution, setting performance standards, encouraging or requiring greater efficiency, changing incentives for how we produce and consume energy, and creating incentives for, and investing in, development of new technologies. Energy policy also must pay far greater attention to ensuring a just transition for workers dislocated by climate action and issues of environmental justice, as the Green New Deal admirably highlights. More government investments are certainly needed, but are by no means sufficient. Federal spending is not the primary measure of ambition nor is it required at the scale of World War II-style economic mobilization if it is to solve the climate crisis, as some have characterized the Green New Deal. Our market-based economy delivers dynamism, growth, and innovation—and a more energetic role for government can ensure it delivers sustainability, fairness, and equity too. The immediacy of the climate challenge means there’s no time to lose getting on with that urgent task.

Read more about Climate ChangeInequalityPolicypolitics

Jason Bordoff a former special assistant to President Obama for energy and climate change, is professor of professional practice in international and public affairs and founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

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