Originally published on the NRDC Expert Blog.
By Gabrielle Habeeb & Ashok Gupta
Eliminating carbon emissions from our building and transportation sectors will be critical to maintaining a healthy and livable climate. This week’s IPCC report makes it clear that heat waves will continue to worsen — so we must rise to the challenge in addressing and living with extreme heat events. The good news is that decarbonizing these sectors is also good for our economy. Today, Missouri is home to more than 50,000 clean energy jobs.
This employment sector was growing steadily prior to the economic stress induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, with clean energy jobs growing more than 3 times faster than the rest of the state’s jobs on average in 2019. Despite an overall decrease in the number of clean energy jobs in 2020, this employment sector is recovering quickly from the pandemic lull, with more than 9 percent job growth documented in the latter half of the year. This resilience demonstrates the incredible potential for clean energy jobs to employ an ever-increasing number of Missourians.
While cities like Kansas City and Saint Louis house many of the clean energy jobs in the state, nearly a quarter of jobs were found in rural areas in 2020 — illustrating that these jobs are everywhere and benefit folks all over the state.
Just under three quarters of Missouri’s clean energy jobs are in the energy efficiency sector. Think: buildings and construction. This means jobs in heating, cooling, lighting — the things that makes our homes more comfortable and reduce utility bills. Buildings make up a whopping 63 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the Kansas City metro region. Large metropolitan areas, suburban cities, and rural areas are all rife with opportunities when it comes to energy efficiency.
Decarbonizing the building sector can be a daunting task. It involves a combination of different energy efficiency measures, low and zero carbon space heating (e.g., heat pumps), and distributed renewable energy generation. Such initiatives support local jobs, improve air quality, enhance affordability, and increase property value — all while combating climate change!
That is why we have prioritized the creation of building energy hubs in the Saint Louis and Kansas City metropolitan areas, modeled after the Building Energy Exchange (BE-Ex). Once fully operational, BE-Ex KC and STL will provide building owners, especially those in low-income communities, with technical assistance, financing help (including accessing utility incentives), and hand holding. BE-Ex will also work with partners on policy strategies that can help reduce the urban heat island effect.
Projects like BE-Ex compliment NRDC’s traditional building decarbonization policy toolkit (i.e., utility efficiency investments, building codes, and appliance standards) with strategies to help speed up market transformation and support community partners on the ground. In both Kansas City and Saint Louis, we will work to advance the IECC 2021 building codes with amendments that strengthen the requirements for building envelopes.
These amendments will help us prepare our buildings for extreme temperatures in both the summer and winter, as well as ensuring buildings are zero-emission ready. This will result not in only cost savings and comfort for occupants but will also be less taxing on the electric grid during times of peak usage, increasing reliability.
After energy efficiency, the next largest clean energy employment sector in Missouri is advanced transportation. In fact, advanced transportation was Missouri’s fastest growing sector of 2020! These are the people who work in electric and hybrid vehicle manufacturing — driving us toward a future with fewer planet warming emissions and cleaner air along our roads and highways.
Electric vehicles are going to play a pivotal role in combating the climate crisis as, nationwide, transportation is the end-use sector responsible for the greatest amount of climate change causing carbon dioxide emissions. Eliminating emissions from our cars and busses will go a long way toward reaching our national and regional climate goals.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are growing in popularity and presence on the road, though too slowly. Policies to support EV adoption and charging infrastructure will be critical to ensuring the advanced transportation sector continues to employ a growing number of workers in Missouri, while supporting a smooth transition to these cleaner modes of travel.
This transition will be good for local air quality, human health, the climate, and driver’s wallets; though, without policy support to incentivize domestic manufacturing, EV adoption has the potential to disrupt the current automotive manufacturing industry. Europe and China currently lead on EV adoption and the manufacturing that goes along with it, while the U.S. lags in both respects. If the U.S. waits until the last minute to invest in the domestic EV supply chain, consumers will have fewer domestic car buying options and the U.S. automotive manufacturing industry will find themselves behind the competition.
Thankfully, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, recently passed by the Senate, invests $7.5 billion in EV infrastructure with explicit goals of accelerating EV adoption and supporting domestic manufacturing jobs. If states like Missouri can position themselves as leaders in EV supply chain manufacturing, it will further support existing and new Missouri workers as they create the vehicles and their components that will move us forward into a cleaner, healthier future.
Buildings and transportation are two sectors that are putting Missourians to work while investing in a cleaner, more climate resilient future. Supporting and enhancing this investment will be critical to minimizing the worst impacts of climate change and making Missouri a safe and prosperous place to live for years to come.
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