United States Emission Reduction Challenges

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Leading Emission Reduction Challenges: (a) Political opposition to climate change legislation; (b) Problems implementing existing climate change policies and programs


Current Level of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the US come from burning fossil fuels for electricity production, for heat, and in transportation. In 2014, the US emitted 6,870 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, contributing 16% of global emissions. Two-thirds of electricity production in the US comes from burning coal and natural gas. Since 2005, emissions have fallen 6.5% while the economy continues to grow, thanks in part to federal financial assistance packages. Emissions projections oscillate between continued decreases in emissions and business as usual increases depending on political support.


Emission Reduction Challenges

As the second largest contributor of greenhouse gas at 16% of global emissions, the US faces considerable challenges to making the reductions pledged at the Paris summit. The greatest hurdle for the US to hold up its end of the Paris Agreement is occurring at the policy level. A combination of political gridlock on decision-making and political opposition to decisions addressing climate change are preventing much meaningful action at the national level.

Key Republican Congressional delegates opposed the Obama administration’s approach to the negotiations in Paris, and their subsequent outcomes and goals. Little legislative action has been initiated by the Obama administration since December in anticipation of the lack of support from the Republican-led Congress. The current administration has committed to reducing US greenhouse gas emissions with the Clean Power Plan. This Plan aims to reduce GHG emissions from the power sector, currently responsible for 30% of the nation’s emissions. By not addressing the other 70% of emissions, however, the administration has faced criticism from the scientific community for not taking strong enough policy action. The Union of Concerned Scientists is calling for policies to address the rest of US emissions, such as vehicle efficiency standards, standards for methane emissions, and increased efficiency of appliances.

With presidential elections in November, the two main candidates are presenting starkly different climate plans. Republican front-runner Donald Trump decries the reality of climate change, and has stated he would “cancel” both the Paris Agreement and the Clean Power Plan. His America First Energy Plan further intends to revive coal-power production and expand gas and oil extraction within the United States.

Alternatively, the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has laid out a climate-change strategy that includes reducing reliance on oil and gas, reducing energy waste and becoming an international leader in energy-efficient manufacturing, and shifting home energy consumption to renewable sources solar and wind.

Without waiting for federal policy, many states are establishing goals of transitioning away from coal power and towards utilizing renewable resources. Investors in the private sector too have increasingly demanded internal action towards green energy, causing nearly $42 billion to be issued in green bonds during 2015. Despite these state-level and private-sector efforts, it is clear that successes in the US for reducing greenhouse gases will be linked to national political outcomes in the coming months.

Submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Ben Carver

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