10 ways the the US can meet its climate change pledge

The world’s second emitter eyes over a quarter cut in its CO2 emissions by 2025. Here’s how it can get there

Smokestacks at a power plant in Arizona. The power sector has the most potential to cut carbon (Flickr/ Nick Humphries)

Smokestacks at a power plant in Arizona. The power sector has the most potential to cut carbon (Flickr/ Nick Humphries)

By Alex Pashley

Climate change is front and centre for the White House this week.

On Monday, 13 big-name companies from General Motors to Microsoft announced $140 billion of low carbon investment, plus pledges to deploy more clean energy.

Barack Obama’s flagship climate-fighting policy, the clean power plan, could be finalised this week by the Environmental Protection Agency. And Democrat hopeful Hillary Clinton is sharpening her green plan with a vow for half a billion solar panels if she wins in 2016.

But hitting the US target, of a 26-28% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2025 on 2005 levels, won’t be easy. Emissions are projected set to rise 8% on 2012 levels by that date, according to Washington think tank WRI.

They have calculated in ten steps just how the White House could achieve those targets, while bypassing a hostile Republican-controlled Congress.

  1. Strengthen the clean power plan

The power sector, responsible for one-third of US emissions, offers the largest source of potential reductions in the near term. The EPA could set tighter emissions curbs for state’s power sectors and expand targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency quotas.

  1. Scale up residential and commercial energy efficiency

The Department of Energy should expand its appliance efficiency standards. Meanwhile, states can strengthen their efficiency-savings targets and building codes to cut electricity use and consumer bills with it.

  1. Expand programmes to cut hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)

The EPA can build on policies to ban potent HFCs, commonly used as refrigerants, for certain applications and approve climate-friendly alternatives as soon as available.

As a large chunk of HFC emissions occur due to system leaks, the EPA should encourage industries to reclaim and recycle their HFCs.

  1. Encourage industrial energy efficiency

Industrial activity is projected to rise by one-third from 2015-2030 as the US economy gathers pace. EPA can clamp down on rising emissions by setting ambitious performance standards for industrial equipment and promoting voluntary programmes like EnergyStar certifications for industrial plants.

  1. Cut methane emissions from natural gas

Natural gas systems regularly leak methane, costing industry money and contributing to warming.

The EPA should create standards to require natural gas producers to use methane-capture technologies, most of which pay for themselves in less than three years.

  1. Strengthen CO2 and fuel-economy standards for passenger cars, reduce travel demand

Standards finalised in 2012 will reduce emissions and save the average consumer $3,400 to $5,000 over the life of their 2025 model car. These should be extended and strengthened on expiration. States and federal agencies should invest in public transport and develop walkable, bikeable communities.

  1. Strengthen fuel-efficiency standards for large vehicles

Current initiatives for medium and heavy-duty trucks are already cutting pollution and are expected to save drivers a total of $49bn over the lifetime of model year 2014-18 vehicles. When those standards end in 2018, they should be expanded.

  1. Improve air travel management and establish carbon-cutting standards for new aircraft

Soaring aviation emissions need to fall.

The Federal Aviation Administration should expand initiatives to make air travel use less fuel, by reducing delays and establishing more precise routes. The EPA should continue working toward emissions standards for new aircraft, which ensure better efficiency and are lighter.

  1. Reduce methane emissions from landfills and coal mines

These aren’t regulated but make up 27% of US methane emissions. The EPA should use the Clean Air Act to set emissions standards for both new and existing landfills and coal mines.

  1. Reduce emissions from other sources and increase carbon sinks

Agencies should target the small-but-significant remaining sources of emissions like off-highway vehicles and man-made industrial gases. At the same time, agencies can expand natural landscapes that store carbon, like forests and grasslands.

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