Sunday, January 31, 2016

Are Current Policies Enough to Hit US Climate Goals?  Wonks Say:  No. - by David Roberts

Under President Obama, especially in his second term, there's been a flurry of action on climate and energy.  All sorts of new programs, rules, and regulations have rolled out, deals have been struck, and new commitments have been made on the international stage.

So it's a good time to pause for a moment, step back, and take stock.

How is the US doing on keeping its climate promises?

A new analysis from the Rhodium Group offers a nice high-level view.  Let's walk through it.

America's current climate goals
In 2009, in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate talks, Obama committed the US to reducing its greenhouse emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.  (At the time, the White House also noted that he was "working closely with Congress to pass energy and climate legislation as soon as possible." Sigh.)

Then in 2014, as part of a bilateral climate agreement with China, Obama announced a new target:  The US will cut its greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Last year that target was submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as America's official plan for emission reductions.

So those are the two targets on the books:  17 percent below 2005 by 2020, 26 to 28 percent below 2005 by 2025.
US emissions are already well below projections
What the Rhodium Group analysis sets out to do is make updated projections of US greenhouse gas emissions — projections that take into account the finalizing of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the extension of the wind and solar tax credits, and other recent policy developments that aren't yet captured in the official forecasts from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

U.S. emission, 1990-2015 (Credit: Rhodium Group) Click to Enlarge.But first, how's Obama doing so far?

Here's US emissions from 1990 to present:

Current US climate policies will not achieve current US climate goals
... The CPP and the tax extenders together begin pushing emissions on a downward trajectory, but not enough to hit either US target.

But no scenario gets to the 2025 target with current policies.  The authors conclude:
... current policies are not sufficient to meet US climate targets except under the most optimistic assumptions.  Even then only the 2020 target may be achievable.  In 2025 a considerable gap remains.

Policies currently in the pipeline brighten the picture somewhat:
 Several policies developed under Obama are still being finalized or only partially implemented.  The analysts have a go at including those in a projection as well.
Given everything Obama has done and is currently working on doing, if everything goes right, the US will barely hit its 2020 target.

But it will take more to hit the 2025 target pledged in Paris.

Policies that could get the US further, if and only if...
The authors suggest a few avenues for further action.
New policies that might have a real effect on US greenhouse gas emissions in 2025 are likely to come almost exclusively from the executive branch.

That will make it extremely difficult to hit the target Obama promised in Paris.  There are, in the end, limits to what the president can do.

And even that chance only exists if a Democrat is elected president in 2016, and probably 2020 as well.  All the current Republican candidates have pledged to roll back Obama's climate rules and ramp up support for fossil fuels; they will find eager partners in a Republican Congress.

Read more at Are Current Policies Enough to Hit US Climate Goals?  Wonks Say:  No.

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