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Meeting GHG 2020 Emission Targets Will be a 'Stretch Objective' for the US
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February 07, 2013

Meeting GHG 2020 Emission Targets Will be a 'Stretch Objective' for the US

By Cheryl Kaften
TMCnet Contributor

New analysis by the Washington, DC-based World Resources Institute finds that the United States currently is not on track to reach its stated goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 (below 2005 baseline levels) – but it has the tools to get there.

The report, “Can the U.S. Get There from Here?” explores specific steps that the Obama Administration and states can take to reduce U.S. emissions—even without action by the intractable and feisty U.S. Congress.

“President Obama has put tackling climate change high on his agenda. Our analysis shows that with strong leadership and ambitious action the Administration can make a significant dent in U.S. emissions,” said Andrew Steer, president, World Resources Institute. “Meeting the 17 percent target would signal that the U.S. is serious about climate change at home and would enhance U.S. leadership on the international stage.”

The analysis finds that the Administration has the opportunity to move forward in four key areas:

  • Implementing strong standards to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants (48 percent of total emissions gap between business-as-usual and 2020 target)
  • Reducing non-energy sources of emissions, including hydrofluorocarbons (23 percent of total emissions gap between BAU and 2020 target), commonly found in refrigerators and air conditioners
  • Limiting methane emissions from natural gas systems (11 percent of total emissions gap between BAU and 2020 target)
  • Increasing energy efficiency from industry and home appliances (8 percent of total emissions gap between BAU and 2020 target)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to take its first steps to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants later this year, after it finalizes emissions performance standards for the construction of new power plants this April.

The federal Clean Air Act does not specify how the EPA must regulate existing sources, but says states need to determine the “best system of emission reduction.”

“The Administration has multiple ways to move forward with smart policies to reduce U.S. emissions. The best opportunity is to enact new standards for existing power plants, which represent one-third of all U.S. emissions,” said Nicholas Bianco, Senior Associate, WRI and lead author of the report. “The Administration has the ability to put the United States on track to meet its commitments, and can do so in a cost-effective and efficient manner.” 

Figure created using data from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE), downloaded September 2012

Bianco also noted, “States can play a very important role in achieving reductions.” The report finds that states can take meaningful action and can use their authority to supplement federal actions. Twenty-nine U.S. states have renewable energy standards and 20 have energy efficiency standards. Some states are moving forward with ambitious climate policies. For example, California just launched a cap-and-trade program that will cover 85 percent of the state’s emissions. California also has a target to produce 33 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. On the East Coast, nine states have capped emissions from the power sector through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

While meeting the 17-percent target is achievable, scientific authorities have found that it will take deeper reductions to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Reaching the longer-term goals will likely take additional action from Congress.

In the meantime, there is much more the Administration can do to reduce U.S. emissions.

“In meeting its goal, the United States can join the global community in taking on the climate crisis. Reducing emissions will benefit U.S. citizens and encourage other countries to make greater reductions,” remarked Steer. “It’s clear that the longer the United States waits, the harder – and more expensive – it will be. The Administration has the tools. We look forward to seeing what steps they take to shift the country to a low-carbon pathway.”

Edited by Braden Becker

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