A few weeks ago, the United States officially submitted its domestic pledge for the new international climate agreement expected to be negotiated in Paris later this year. The numbers – now well known to the environmental community and interested observers the world over – commit the U.S. to lowering its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.
Less well understood is the path that will get us there. In the weeks and months following the informal release of the target last year as part of a landmark deal with China, the two most frequently asked questions posed by those following the global climate debate have been: are these reductions achievable, and how?
We decided to find out.
In 2005, the U.S. net GHG emissions were approximately 6.3 gigatons (Gt). Meeting the 2025 target would require emissions reduction of at least 1.5 Gt from a combination of abatement measures and land sinks. U.S. emissions have already been trending downward since their 2005 peak, but sustained and deeper cuts will require further action. Since the release of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan in June 2013, the administration has taken several targeted steps aimed at lowering domestic GHG emissions. These include EPA’s proposal to regulate emissions from existing power plants, DOE’s new and updated energy conservation standards for equipment and appliances, the administration’s plan to cut methane emissions, and actions to phase down the use of HFCs—the highly potent greenhouse gases primarily used in refrigeration and air conditioning.
How close can all of these actions get us to the 2025 target? It turns out, pretty close.
Crunching numbers from emissions impact estimates buried inside regulatory impact analyses and a host of other documents, we find that the suite of recent, proposed and planned regulations pushed by the Obama administration could lead to significant reductions in U.S. GHG emissions by 2025—up to 22% below 2005 levels, equivalent to approximately 80% of the needed reductions.
Expected emissions reductions by policy stage in 2025
Note: 100% represents the lower end of the 2025 target, 26%.
This is how the numbers shake out:
- Finalized: Already adopted, on-the-books, regulations, represent approximately 4% of needed reductions. These are primarily new and updated energy efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, as well as the Tier 3 vehicle emissions and fuel standards, which are not aimed at GHG emissions but produce climate co-benefits.
- Proposed: Proposed policies—regulations with drafts already available for comment—account for 60% of total needed action. The most well known of these is the Clean Power Plan to tackle emissions from existing power plants. Proposed policies may eventually be adopted in a somewhat different form, which will have an impact on the expected emissions reductions.
- Planned: Planned policies—those that we know are coming, but whose drafts have not yet been made public—cover another 10% of all needed reductions. The most significant of these are the new regulation to limit methane emissions from new oil and gas facilities.
- Discussed: Discussed policies include those that are considered necessary, but that are not yet close to becoming law. This category, representing about 7% of all needed reductions, by and large includes the phasedown of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.
This analysis is limited only to actions that the Administration has publicly announced. It does not represent the suite of what is possible—but not yet proposed—under existing authority. In addition, these conclusions are highly dependent on the business-as-usual emissions projections, which are adapted from EIA projections (for CO2) and the 2014 U.S. Climate Action Report (for CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs, and SF6). The EIA reference case estimate is based on the market conditions prevalent as of October 2014. Unpredictable and rapid changes in factors such as prices, production, and energy demand are likely to have a substantial impact on future emissions, as could changes in economic growth compared to projected GDP increases. This variability is not accounted for in this analysis.
Taken together, does this analysis imply that the target achievable? We believe it does. Ten years out, announced and planned measures can get us within striking distance of meeting the U.S. target.
How do we get the rest of the way? To realize the reductions necessary, the next U.S. President will need to vigorously implement existing and upcoming Obama administration policies as well as propose new emissions reduction measures. Although this is far from assured given the current political climate, the optimist in us believes that an already rolling 1.5 Gt ball will be difficult to stop.
This is a living analysis and we plan to update it as more information becomes available. The white paper containing the full analysis is available below.
Achieving the U.S. 2025 Emissions Mitigation Target
When the United States announced its domestic pledge for the new international climate agreement expected to be negotiated in Paris later this year, the numbers became well known the world over: thee U.S. pledged to lower its carbon emissions by 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Less well understood is the path that will get us there. The two most frequently asked questions posed by those following the global climate debate have been: are these reductions achievable, and how? In this analysis, Maria Belenky found that, ten years out, announced and planned measures can get the U.S. within striking distance of meeting its target.