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25 years of impact

A blueprint for climate action, 25 years in the making

January 26, 2022

We enter 2022 with global temperatures rising, climate change evident worldwide, and timid climate action from governments around the world. Under business as usual, our planet is headed toward risky climate conditions outside human experience, and we must slow the damage caused by greenhouse gas emissions while rapidly advancing a full suite of carbon-free technologies to avoid the worst outcomes. The time for urgent and meaningful action is now – and Clean Air Task Force offers a path forward.

For the past 25 years we’ve challenged conventional wisdom, asked difficult questions, and explored every climate management opportunity that offers promise. Using a pragmatic approach to climate and energy policy advocacy that’s rooted in science and economics, and free from ideology, we’re developing a blueprint for effective climate action, and nudging the climate debate in a more constructive direction.

In recognition of our 25th anniversary, we’re showcasing our history of impact in a new monthly blog series this year, celebrating our milestones and highlighting our independent approach to the climate challenge. We’ll take stock of how CATF’s work has moved policy forward and share with you our vision for where we need to go next. From our beginnings as a more traditional environmental organization focused on pollution regulation to our technology-forward advocacy based on systems thinking, we are determined in our effort to effectively eliminate greenhouse emissions – and we do so with realistic, scalable solutions.

From humble beginnings to powerful pollution regulations 

When Clean Air Task Force began its work in 1996, we were a band of six lawyers, advocates, and energy experts in Boston, Massachusetts, with a laser-like focus on significantly reducing emissions from coal plants in the U.S. Our methods and scope were traditional, and we created and funded ground campaigns in 20 key states to push for new federal air quality regulations that would cut power plant air pollution and carbon. Our campaign against dirty coal power generation marked CATF’s first foray into the climate fight, and our work saved nearly 13,000 lives per year and helped hundreds of thousands of people avoid illness.

Putting methane center stage 

From there, we became the first environmental organization to publicize the importance of reducing the emissions of super pollutants like methane. Before others, we understood the importance of tackling short-lived climate pollutants to slow warming in the near term, while reducing carbon dioxide to avoid additional, more permanent warming in the long term. Twenty years later, we have moved methane from the unknown to the mainstream, building mighty coalitions and laying the groundwork for the Global Methane Pledge, launched at COP26 in Glasgow by more than 100 countries.

Broadening our strategy 

In the early 2000s, CATF recognized that, on their own, energy efficiency and renewable energy might not feasibly slow global warming at the rate needed to fend off the worst impacts of climate change. We began to pursue a deeper and broader strategy to address carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from power generation, fossil fuel production, transportation, and industrial sources. This broadened strategy included technology advocacy for critical innovations in carbon capture and advanced nuclear energy.

We were one of the first environmental groups to lead the U.S. push for carbon capture technology, now recognized by the best available analysis as a critical part of the pathway to a net-zero emissions future. We secured funding for the first carbon capture demonstrations in the U.S. and helped build a movement of disparate environment and industrial interests that became the Carbon Capture Coalition. Our work to advance carbon management has since expanded into Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Recognizing the benefits nuclear energy could bring to a decarbonizing world, CATF began a new program to accelerate the deployment of advanced nuclear energy to decarbonize the energy system in 2007. We went on to become a pioneer in this space, conducting the first survey of Advanced Reactor Technology, launching the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, and helping pass the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act in 2018. Today, we’re working to accelerate research, development, demonstration and scale up of advanced nuclear around the world, for both electricity and clean fuel production.

We also have not been afraid to speak out on the potential dangers of energy technology applications where climate benefits are exaggerated. We set the record straight on bioenergy, highlighting the climate impact of many forms of biofuels and fighting to reform biofuel policy to focus on the promotion of climate beneficial biofuels.

More recently, we’ve launched new programs to explore and advocate for other promising energy technologies to help reduce global warming. Our research into zero-carbon fuels shows that it is crucial to decarbonizing marine shipping, heavy-duty trucking, aviation and other hard-to-electrify sectors, and our exploration into cutting-edge technology like superhot rock geothermal energy indicates that it has the potential to meet long-term demands for zero-carbon, always-on power, and has the potential to meet energy demand all over the world.

Expanding our global reach and impact 

Clean Air Task Force has grown into a global organization since 1996, from a hardy group of seven to 90 professionals today, but we remain true to our DNA as a nimble, constantly iterating, science-driven advocacy organization focused on keeping carbon out of the atmosphere. We still define climate and air pollution problems at their root cause, and look for the biggest levers of change. Last year, we championed an initiative that revealed methane emissions at oil and gas sites across Europe, and we used this data to advocate for the European Commission’s first EU-wide proposal on cutting methane emissions in the energy sector. And, as an expansion of our global efforts to combat climate change, we began a new energy and climate innovation program in Africa in 2020 — focused on expanding energy access while catalyzing clean technology innovation in sub-Saharan Africa.

We understand the need for durable policies that will withstand inevitable political cycles, and that scalable solutions will be needed for the large part of the world that currently lacks energy access and is dependent on unabated fossil fuels. Our coalitions focus on creating more options and explore cooperative pathways not only with like-minded advocates, but with industries that are willing to change.

Join us this year as we reflect on our 25th anniversary, and on the progress we’ve made in the fight against climate change. You’ll learn about a wide range of our diverse projects over the years, ranging from advancing carbon capture projects from California to China, to reducing methane emissions from New Mexico to Romania, and from technological climate innovations to environmental justice initiatives. We’ll explore how our proven and effective strategies are catalyzing important movements to decarbonize the global economy and energy system, bringing us closer to a zero-emissions, high-energy planet at an affordable cost.

As we look ahead to the next 25 years, we’ll continue to think big and ask hard questions with a full portfolio of technology and policy solutions, and we’re honored to share this journey with you.

For more on our 25 years of impact, watch our video showcasing CATF experts around the world.

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