This post was submitted by US Country Manager Nathan Holman
Current Level of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
In 2019, net greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. totaled 5,769 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMT CO2 Eq.). This number accounts for greenhouse gas sinks. Total 2019 emissions in the U.S. (not accounting for sinks) were 6,558 MMT CO2 Eq.
These net emissions mark a four percent increase from 1990. However, 2019 emissions are down 13 percent from 2005, demonstrating a more recent downward trend, despite being above 1990 levels. The graph below illustrates this trend.
Graphic from EPA report “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2019.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the body responsible for collecting data on greenhouse gas emissions and reporting to the public. Information about specific facilities and emitters can be found using FLIGHT, the EPA’s “Facility Level Information on GreenHouse gases Tool.”
In 2019, the Trump administration famously withdrew the U.S. from participation in the Paris Agreement. On January 20, 2021, his first day in office, President Joe Biden rejoined the Agreement.
In April 2021, President Biden held a Leaders Summit on Climate, gathering leaders from around the world to discuss the threat of climate change and increase commitments to reduce emissions. At the summit, President Biden announced the U.S.’s own ambitious emissions targets for 2030 and 2050, cementing a pivot in the country’s approach to climate change.
Commitments for 2030 and 2050
Under the Biden Administration, the U.S. is now committed to reducing its net greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. In keeping with the global standard, the U.S. is also committed to achieving net-zero emissions across the country’s entire economy by 2050. Details on the country’s climate commitments can be found in the White House’s April 22nd Fact Sheet on the 2030 target.
Plan for Reducing Emissions
The U.S. government has yet to provide a breakdown of its plan to achieve its 2030 and 2050 targets. More broadly, it has announced the launch of a “whole-of-government process,” organized through the National Climate Task Force. President Biden has also announced an “American Jobs Plan” that aims to transform the American economy through updated infrastructure, creating a variety of new jobs. Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is built into this plan through the installation of energy-efficiency measures. Further details on the American Jobs Plan can be found in the White House’s March 31st Fact Sheet.
The plan appears to begin with energy. The government has announced its goal to have 80% of the country’s power come from emissions-free sources by 2030 and to have a net-zero power grid by 2035. Biden’s government intends to write this 80% goal into law, without support from the opposition party, through a process called “budget reconciliation,” which will only facilitate a plan from the Biden administration that is within a 10-year window.
Pledge to Paris Agreement
The U.S. submitted its first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), since rejoining the Paris Agreement, on April 21, 2021. This pledge matches the commitment announced by President Biden at the Summit, which began the following day. It reads:
“The nationally determined contribution of the United States of America is: To achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its net greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52 percent below 2005 levels in 2030.”
The country’s NDC identifies possible pathways to reducing emissions in specific sectors but does not set out a plan. In addition to energy, the NDC points to transportation, buildings, industry and agriculture as sectors the federal government plans to support in its effort to achieve its climate goals
The NDC also acknowledges the role of non-CO2 emissions. The government has indicated its intention to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons, update infrastructure standards where methane is concerned, plug methane leaks, and incentivize sustainable agricultural practices.
More information about possible pathways for the identified sectors and about reduction of non-CO2 emissions can be found in the NDC.
Contact: Michael S. Regan, Environment Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator.
Email address: Regan.Michael@epa.gov
Image from ABC News, November 5, 2018.