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New Climate Action Report: U.S. Can Reach its Emissions-Reduction Goal, but Only With Ambitious Action

Yesterday, the Obama Administration released the sixth U.S. Climate Action Report (CAR6) for public review, to be submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in January 2014. The report, which all developed countries are required to complete, outlines U.S. historical and future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, actions the country is taking to address climate change, and its vulnerability to climate change impacts. This report follows the President’s recently announced Climate Action Plan, which, as the CAR6 report shows, could enable the United States to meet its international commitment of reducing emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020—if it acts ambitiously, that is.

However, as the report acknowledges, U.S. government agencies will need to propose new rules and take other steps to implement the Climate Action Plan. CAR6 factors in this uncertainty and shows that implementation of the Climate Action Plan will result in reductions in the range of 14 to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 (not taking into account land use). As WRI found in our report, Can The U.S. Get There From Here?, the Obama Administration can achieve a 17 percent emissions-reduction target only by taking ambitious “go-getter” action.

Now is a good time to reflect on what the United States has done over the past four years and what still needs to happen across the major emissions sources in order meet the national emissions-reduction goal and curb the effects of climate change.

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The World Needs More Energiewende

Germany’s energy transition (or “Energiewende”) is the most ambitious current effort to put a large industrial economy onto a sustainable energy path, recognizing the 21st century reality of a climate-constrained world. If the world’s fourth largest economy demonstrates that this shift is possible without undermining economic growth, it could be a major factor in enabling a global energy transition. And with climate change intensifying – 2012 was the 36th straight year of above-average global temperature, and 2011 and 2012 each produced more extreme weather events costing over one billion dollars each than any other year in recorded history – reducing greenhouse gas emissions is imperative for any future energy system. Thus, the Energiewende is critical to the ongoing fight against global warming.

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A Closer Look at the Shaheen-Portman Energy Efficiency Bill

New energy efficiency legislation has been introduced by Senators Shaheen and Portman that could come before the U.S. Senate as early as this month. This bill, formally known as the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013 (S. 761), provides goals, incentives, and support for energy efficiency efforts across the U.S. economy. Passage of this bill would be a positive step toward saving money through improved efficiency while helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Cutting Carbon through Industrial Energy Efficiency: The Case of Midwest Pulp and Paper Mills

While manufacturing is a critical part of the U.S. economy, it’s struggled over the last several years—both financially and environmentally. Overall U.S. manufacturing employment has dropped by more than one-third since 2000. Meanwhile, U.S. industry—of which manufacturing is the largest component—still uses more energy than any other sector and serves as the largest source of U.S. and global greenhouse gas emissions.

The good news is that energy efficiency can help U.S. manufacturing increase profits, protect jobs, and lead the development of a low-carbon economy. The Midwest’s pulp and paper industry is a case in point: New WRI analysis finds that the pulp and paper sector—the third-largest energy user in U.S. manufacturing—could cost-effectively reduce its energy use in the Midwest by 25 percent through use of existing technologies. These improvements could save hundreds of thousands of jobs, lower costs, and help the United States achieve its goal of reducing emissions by 17 percent by 2020. As the White House moves to cut carbon dioxide pollution in America, energy efficiency improvements in Midwest pulp and paper mills are a tangible example of the win-win-win emissions-reduction opportunities in U.S. industry.

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How to Turn State of the Union Address Commitments into Real Climate Action

President Obama made it abundantly clear during the State of the Union address last night that he will direct his Administration to take on climate change. The president reiterated the urgency for action, citing climate impacts we’re already seeing like record high temperatures, heat waves, drought, wildfires, and floods. “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence,” he said. “Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science--and act before it’s too late.”

The president urged Congress to rise to the challenge by pursuing a “bipartisan, market-based solution,” but he also noted that the Administration will take action—with or without Congress. “I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy,” the president said.

This statement is especially significant because the Administration can take meaningful actions right now even without new legislation. WRI recently released a report detailing the immediate steps federal agencies can take to combat climate change. The four greatest opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short term include:

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A Roadmap to Respond to the Climate Crisis

This post originally appeared on TheHill.com.

Tonight, President Obama will address the nation at the State of the Union, laying out his priorities for his second term. Climate change is expected to be high on the list, especially following the Inauguration when the president declared that a failure to respond would "betray our children and future generations."

The president has set a goal for the U.S. to reduce emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020; however, the country lacks a clear national plan to get there- and to go even further.

This puts the U.S. out of step with most major countries. For instance, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Korea are moving ahead with ambitious emissions targets backed by strong national policies. Even China - which faces real challenges due to its heavy dependence on coal - has targets to rein in carbon emissions and increase its share of renewable energy under its 12th Five Year Plan.

What, then, can the United States achieve, especially with a Congress that is reluctant to act?

The World Resources Institute just released a comprehensive analysis that finds that the Administration can achieve its 17 percent goal by 2020. But, it will take strong leadership and ambitious action.

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