Dec 9, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Taking stock of Biden's latest climate executive order

Illustration of aviator glasses with green lenses.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The most interesting thing about President Biden's executive order on federal government emissions isn't the headline goal — net zero in three decades — but rather the interim targets.

Catch up fast: Biden yesterday issued a wide-ranging order on federal climate goals and clean technology procurement targets.

  • Goals include 100% carbon-free power in federal operations by 2030, 100% of the government's vehicle fleet purchases to be zero emissions by 2035 (with an earlier date, 2027, for light-duty vehicles), and a 50% reduction in building emissions by 2032.

Why it matters: The government is big. A wider federal sustainability plan also released yesterday notes there are 300,000 buildings, 600,000 cars and trucks, and annual purchasing power of $650 billion in goods and services.

The big picture: Overall, that's still a small fraction of the economy. But it's still important. Large buyers can create market demand that pushes technologies — say, EVs and nascent green cement — into the economy more widely.

  • “It’s a similar strategy to what China is doing so successfully, leveraging the purchasing power of their government to create demand that markets can meet,” Josh Freed of the think tank Third Way tells the NYT.

Quick take: One interim target caught my eye. The 2030 carbon-free power goal is on a net-annual basis, but it also calls for 50% of the power to be emissions-free on a 24/7 basis and "produced within the same regional grid where the energy is consumed."

  • Procuring enough clean power from somewhere, through various purchasing structures, to theoretically meet annual aggregate demand is one thing.
  • Not drawing any power from fossil resources on an hourly basis is an emerging challenge that can help deeply decarbonize grids, but is also much tougher to pull off.
  • It's one that some companies and local governments are taking on, with Google hoping to have its operations run 24/7 on clean power by 2030.

Go deeper: Biden administration approves second major offshore wind project

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