Green New Deal could break parts of the US power system

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.,  address the Woman's March in Manhattan, Jan. 19, 2019.

Policies aimed at achieving zero emissions have historically targeted mid-century for two reasons, according to Dr. Noah Kaufman, who studied pathways to decarbonization on the White House Council on Environmental Quality under President Barack Obama.

First, climate scientists generally believe cutting emissions by 80 percent to 100 percent by 2050 would allow nations to collectively prevent global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, the headline goal of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Beyond that threshold, climate scientists warn the impacts of global warming grow less predictable and perhaps exponentially more devastating.

Second, a longer timeline allows reductions to occur without major disruptions to the way companies and citizens go about their business. The 10-year target for Ocasio-Cortez’s goal, for example, would force utilities to shut down natural gas plants long before their useful life is over, said Kaufman, now a research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

Drummer confirms the Green New Deal would phase out all fossil fuel and nuclear plants, though he said it would be done “responsibly and justly.”

“The reason why we think it’s worth looking into is because the science says we actually don’t have 10 years. The science says this should have happened 10 years ago from yesterday,” Drummer said.

Drummer points to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent warning that “unprecedented changes” are necessary to meet the more ambitious goal of holding global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The world is on pace to exceed that level as soon as 2030, the Nobel Prize-winning panel composed of climate scientists said.

Policymakers and scholars tell CNBC a broad, overarching strategy to combat climate change is necessary, and they welcome the attention that Ocasio-Cortez has brought to the issue.