Earlier this month, the United States ratified the Paris climate accord. But new research shows that the US will likely fall short of the environmental pledges made in that agreement, unless new measures to cut greenhouse gases are passed. That’s bleak news ahead of a presidential election that could completely change the US’s commitments to fight climate change.
The Paris climate deal was reached at the end of last year, when nearly 200 nations agreed to cut fossil fuel emissions in an effort to combat climate change. The accord, which will go into effect later this year, aims to keep global temperature increases “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. Under the agreement, the Obama administration pledged to reduce US emissions by 26–28 percent of 2005 levels by 2025.
To achieve that goal, the administration plans to use a mix of existing and proposed climate change policies that address the footprint of several sectors — including how much fuel heavy-duty vehicles consume, how much methane is produced by landfills and coal mines, and how much carbon is emitted by power plants. Previous studies have already examined US plans — and all concluded that it’ll be challenging to meet the 2025 pledges. Today’s study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, uses the latest available data to show that the US needs additional climate change measures.
In the study, the researchers predicted how many greenhouse gases the US will emit in 2025 by taking into account several climate change policies that are already implemented, some that are proposed, and others that were announced but not yet finalized. They found that the US will likely reduce emissions by 7 percent to 21 percent of 2005 levels by 2025 if it continues with already-implemented and proposed regulations. If the US also follows through with announced policies that are yet to be finalized, it will likely reduce emissions by 16 percent to 32 percent of 2005 levels by 2025. So if we want to make sure we meet the Paris goals, additional measures to cut greenhouse gases are needed, the authors conclude.
And rising to meet those goals has international importance, says Jeffery Greenblatt, a climate researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the co-author of the study. “If the United States is successful it’s very likely that a number of other countries will follow suit and re-strengthen their own commitments,” says Greenblatt. “It’s a kind of a self-reinforcing process when large nations are able to take a bold stand and follow through.” Unfortunately, between the historical political climate and the upcoming election, bold action may be difficult for the US to accomplish.
Last February, the Supreme Court halted implementation of the Clean Power Plan, the Environmental Protection Agency’s most ambitious effort to cut greenhouse gases. That means that even if the regulation is eventually upheld, its implementation will be slowed down so much that it’ll be impossible to meet the 2025 targets, says David Bookbinder, a partner at Element VI Consulting who’s testified before Congress on the US’s commitment to the Paris climate accord and who was not involved in the study. “The problem is we built our economy on fossil fuels, there’s no way around it,” Bookbinder says. “What we need to do is simply change how our economy works. And that’s not something that’s easy to do in any shape and form.”