The proposed U.S. commitment to tackling climate change in support of a new international climate agreement is a serious and achievable plan that demonstrates the United States is ready to take significant action. Coming today, eight months before the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in Paris this December, known as COP 21, the U.S. submission adds momentum to global climate negotiations and should help spur other countries to act.
As the world’s second largest emitter, the United States can use its comprehensive proposal to help inspire greater climate action internationally. The U.S. commitment sends an important signal to the world by making clear the need for a path to deep cuts in climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.
What’s the Basic U.S. Climate Action Proposal?
The historic announcement by the United States and China last November formed the basis for the top-line target in the U.S. proposal: a pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The proposal also indicates that this target is consistent with a trajectory to economy-wide reductions of 80 percent or more by 2050.
The United States committed to an overall greenhouse gas emissions outcome, not to a specific pathway for achieving it. But the proposal does provide important clarity about the laws and regulations the administration will use to reach the target, including using its authority under the Clean Air Act and the Energy Policy Act. Including this information enhances the transparency of the proposed commitment and sends important signals to the international community that the U.S. target is both achievable and durable.
Many of these policies, which underpin the proposed 2025 target, are already being implemented through regulatory processes based on existing laws, an approach that helps to ensure they will last over the coming decade and beyond. While the proposal doesn’t list the full suite of specific sectors where action will be needed, the most important sectors include:
Residential and commercial efficiency
Passenger vehicles and medium- and heavy-duty trucks
Methane from natural gas systems and landfills
These actions set a good foundation that will help drive deep cuts in future emissions. In order to achieve its 2025 emissions-reduction target, the United States will also need to continue to develop regulations under the broad laws it identified in its proposal, including standards for sources of emissions not yet addressed (like industry and aircraft).
The U.S. submission provides critical elements of transparency, including information on how it will account for emissions and removals from the land use and forestry sector, specifying that the United States does not intend to use market mechanisms like offsets to achieve its target.
The U.S. discussion concerning the fairness and ambition of its contribution is limited in scope. Information about these issues is essential to determining how the actions by the United States compare to other countries and how far they go toward reaching the target level of emissions reductions. In addressing fairness and ambition, the submission notes the doubling of the U.S. emissions-reduction rate and the goal of an 80 percent or more reduction by 2050. However, the proposed commitment does not use key indicators of fairness, as other countries’ submissions have done, such as emissions per capita, economic capacity or mitigation potential. Presenting its contribution without this context makes it difficult to determine whether the United States is realizing its mitigation potential to the greatest extent possible considering its national circumstances.
The U.S. proposal to reduce emissions by as much as 28 percent represents a significant commitment through 2025. But the country will need to continue to accelerate its efforts over time to help the world get on track to limit global warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) and reach the goal of deep decarbonization by mid-century.
The good news is that there is much the United States could do to benefit both the climate and the economy by saving businesses and consumers money and improving public health. As we move toward the Paris climate summit, all countries – along with cities, businesses and other actors – will need to cooperate to seize these opportunities.
American voters support ambitious climate leadership and recent polls show that U.S. voters would overwhelmingly support President Obama in signing an international agreement that would commit all countries to address climate change by reducing carbon emissions. The U.S. proposal is an essential step on that path, one that can help spur the necessary level of global action.