State Department submission to UN highlights how far behind curve country is on meeting emission goals
By Ed King
Ambitious climate policies are critical if the USA has any chance of hitting its 2020 emission reduction targets, a new State Department report warns.
The 310-page submission to the UN says that unless President Obama’s proposed Climate Action Plan is fully implemented, the US is likely to fall short of its pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions 17% on 2005 levels by 2020.
Since 2005 US emissions have fallen 6.5%, largely due to its transition from coal to gas, but without further action this report suggests the country is likely to achieve overall cuts of only 5% by the end of the decade.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already started rolling out parts of Obama’s plan; in September it issued new Carbon Pollution Standards for power plants, but opponents say they will block further proposals.
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has promised to stop what he calls Obama’s “war on coal”, promising to focus on energy and climate issues during this year’s midterm elections.
But the State Department says the EPA’s plans to phase out polluting power plants, boost renewable energy capacity and encourage efficiency measures are vital and can reduce emissions by 12%. Curbing the release of warming gases called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and methane could cut emissions by a further 3%.
The report is likely to be closely analysed by the UN, which is relying heavily on Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to provide leadership ahead of a proposed global emissions reduction treaty in Paris next year.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged countries to arrive at a summit he is hosting in New York this September with “firm commitments”, but the State Department’s branding of the USA’s current targets as “ambitious” suggests it is very unlikely the US will be one of those making further pledges.
Writing in an attached cover letter Kerry says the world is “closer than we’ve ever been to a breakthrough” on climate change at UN talks.
He adds: “This is a test of our leadership in the century ahead. We are not just the indispensable nation – today we must be indispensable stewards of our shared planet.”
“Maintaining our progress requires further action,” says the report, adding that it will take “months and years” to establish just how successful they are.
The submission also reveals the growing concerns within the US government over the impacts of climate change within the country.
“Between 2003 and 2013, for example, severe weather caused an estimated 679 widespread power outages across the United States,” it says, costing the country an estimated $18–$33 billion.
It says the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 demonstrated that the “aging infrastructure” in US cities lacks resilience to extreme weather events, be they rising sea levels, storm surges or heat waves.
“The federal government itself has made substantial progress in incorporating adaptation activities across the country, though they are not widely known or recognized by the public,” the authors add.
“Even with this progress, however, the nation must do more to avoid or adapt to serious impacts of climate change that have large social, environmental, and economic consequences.”