On 1 June 2017, President Trump announced that the US will pull out of the Paris Agreement. On 4 August 2017, the United States formally communicated its intent to withdraw from the agreement to the UN. These steps are a severe backwards move and an abrogation of the United States’ responsibility as the world’s second largest emitter. The US move comes at a time when more, not less, commitment is needed from all governments to avert the worst impacts of climate change. Based on its intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, we rate the US “Critically insufficient.”
While this move is likely to have a limited effect on US emissions in the short term, the effect of the US withdrawal will be felt globally.
The Paris Agreement’s signatories— including the leaders of the other six of the G7 governments — have confirmed their commitment to implementing the Agreement. Other national governments and regions are already taking up a climate leadership role — including the State of California — and, according to our latest analysis, China and India.
The ongoing advance of renewable energy and storage systems globally means that market pressures in the USA towards clean energy solutions will not favour President Trump’s desire to expand coal use in the country. Ultimately it seems likely that the US will fall behind renewable energy market leaders such as the EU, China and possibly India as they move ahead in transforming towards a clean economy.
Under the Trump Administration, significant and highly adverse rollbacks of climate policy are now underway at the federal level in the USA. In his “America First Energy Plan,” President Trump committed to eliminating “burdensome regulations on our energy industry” and to reviving America’s coal industry. With his Executive Order on “energy independence,” President Trump began the process of “suspending, revising, and rescinding” a number of existing policies, including the Clean Power Plan. He also rescinded the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan. If the CAT were to rate the US’s projected emissions levels in 2025 under current policies, the US would be rated “Highly insufficient.”
In order to meet its 2025 Paris Agreement commitment—or NDC—of reducing emissions by 26–28% below 2005 levels incl. LULUCF, the United States would have had to implement both the Clean Power Plan and the Obama Administration’s full Climate Action Plan. Current US policies, including the Clean Power Plan, would only reduce emissions to 10% below 2005 levels by 2025. If the Clean Power Plan is stopped, emissions in 2025 are likely to be even higher, at 7% below 2005 levels, halting the downward trend of the last decade. Legally, the NDC remains in place as it is until at least 2019, unless the USA chooses to modify it. However, the US has already communicated an intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement at that time and the Trump Administration has already stopped implementation of the NDC at the federal level.
Without further policies, the US will miss its 2025 NDC commitment by a large margin. Since the US has communicated its intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and a withdrawal would in effect annul its NDC, we rate it “Critically insufficient.” However, if the CAT were to rate the NDC commitment, it would be rated “Insufficient.” The “Insufficient” rating indicates that the US NDC in 2025 is not consistent with holding warming to below 2°C, let alone limiting it to 1.5°C as required under the Paris Agreement, and is instead consistent with warming between 2°C and 3°C. This means the US NDC commitment is at the least stringent end of what would be a fair share of global effort, and is not consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit, unless other countries make much deeper reductions and comparably greater effort.
On 3 September 2016, the US ratified the Paris Agreement and its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution became its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). Under its NDC, the US aims to reduce net GHG emissions by 26–28% below 2005 in 2025 including land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) (equivalent to 21–28% below 2005 levels excluding LULUCF, and equivalent to 9–16% below 1990 levels excluding LULUCF). Positive aspects of the US NDC are the 2025 timeframe, a clear description of accounting rules and other assumptions, and the coverage of the complete economy and all gases.
An area of potential concern is the net-net accounting approach, meaning the targets are set against base year emissions including emissions and removals from the land sector. The uncertainty in the land sector, and the large fluctuations reported, indicate some uncertainty in the reduction of GHG emissions excluding emissions from the land sector. Recent changes in methodology used in official government reporting increase the projected sinks in the land sector, making it 4–5% points easier for the US to meet its future targets.
Under the Paris Agreement, all parties should develop long term, low greenhouse gas emission development strategies. Accordingly, the Obama Administration submitted a “Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization” (The White House 2016), in which it sets an emissions reduction target of 80% or more below 2005 levels in 2050, incl. LULUCF. This translates to 68–76% below 2005 levels (63–73% below 1990), excl. LULUCF, depending on the magnitude of the LULUCF sinks.
 21–28% below 2005 levels, excluding LULUCF.
 Excluding LULUCF.
The US NDC sets a target of reducing its emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025, including LULUCF. This is consistent with a linear interpolation between the 2020 pledge and the national long-term 2050 target, and is set on a net-net accounting basis.
The impact of the NDC on reducing GHG emissions (excluding LULUCF) is unclear, due to uncertainties in the estimate of land sector removals and in the projections for these removals in 2020 and 2025. Changes in methodology increase the projected sinks in the land sector as reported in the 2nd Biennial Report compared to the 6th National Communication, making it 4–5 %-points easier for the US to meet its future targets.
Based on the values in the US’s 6th National Communication (United States of America 2014), we estimate that the 26–28% reduction target in net emissions are likely to result in a range of 21–28% reduction in GHG emissions excluding LULUCF below 2005 levels, depending on whether the sink from LULUCF is at the high or low end of the projections. The impact of LULUCF on the gross emissions reduction target is lower than in our previous analysis, because of a data change (see Assumptions section for details).
The United States is not a Party to the Kyoto Protocol. While a target of a 7% reduction below 1990 from 2008–2012 was originally negotiated and agreed, the US never ratified the Protocol and the target therefore never came into force.
Under the Copenhagen Accord, the US announced an emissions reduction target of 17% below 2005 levels, around 1% above to 4% below 1990 levels exc. LULUCF, by 2020 (United States Department of State, 2010).
As part of the Paris Agreement, all parties should develop and communicate long term strategies for development with low greenhouse gas emissions. On 16 November 2016, the US submitted a “Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization” (The White House 2016) in accordance with Article 4. The strategy sets an emissions reduction target of 80% or more below 2005 levels in 2050, incl. LULUCF. This is equivalent to 68–76% below 2005 levels (63–73% below 1990), excl. LULUCF, depending on the magnitude of the LULUCF sinks.
 The NDC states that the USA “intends to include all categories of emissions by sources and removals by sinks, and all pools and gases, as reported in the Inventory of United States Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks; to account for the land sector using a net-net approach; and to use a “production approach” to account for harvested wood products consistent with IPCC guidance. The United States may also exclude emissions from natural disturbances, consistent with available IPCC guidance.”
 For methodological consistency with historical data, CAT uses values from the 6th National Communication.
Based on its intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and hence annul its NDC, we rate the US “Critically insufficient.”
However, if the CAT were to rate the US NDC commitment (26–28% below 2005 levels incl. LULUCF by 2025), it would be rated “Insufficient.” The “Insufficient” rating indicates that the US NDC in 2025 is not consistent with holding warming to below 2°C, let alone limiting it to 1.5°C as required under the Paris Agreement, and is instead consistent with warming between 2°C and 3°C. If all countries were to follow this approach, warming would reach over 2°C and up to 3°C. This means the US’s NDC is at the least stringent end of what would be a fair share of global effort, and is not consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit, unless other countries make much deeper reductions and comparably greater effort.
Reaching the NDC target would have required implementing additional policies under the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan, which President Trump has rescinded. The NDC target for 2025 is in line with some effort sharing approaches that focus on capability and costs. Approaches that focus on equal cumulative emissions and historic responsibility would require much more stringent reductions and partially result in negative emission allowances in all years.
If the CAT were to rate the US’s projected emissions levels in 2025 under current policies, we would rate the US “Highly insufficient,” indicating that the US’s current policies in 2025 are not consistent with holding warming to below 2°C, let alone limiting it to 1.5°C as required under the Paris Agreement, and are instead consistent with warming between 3°C and 4°C: if all countries were to follow the US’s approach, warming could reach over 3°C and up to 4°C. This means the US’s current policies are not in line with any interpretation of a “fair” approach to the former 2°C goal, let alone the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit.
For further information about the risks and impacts associated with the temperature levels of each of the categories click here
An important step in strengthening US climate action is the successful implementation of the “Clean Power Plan” (CPP), first proposed in 2014 and announced as a final rule in August 2015 after an extended phase of public consultation. However, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the CPP in February 2016, and President Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency in March 2017 to review and “as soon as practicable, suspend, revise, or rescind” the guidance and final rules (The White House 2017). In late April 2017, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over the case against the CPP, paused litigation for 60 days, making it unlikely that court will rule on the CPP during the EPA’s review (Reilly 2017).
The CPP aims to reduce emissions from the power sector by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030, by setting targets for each state individually. The states can then choose how to meet the target, e.g. by increasing the share of low-carbon electricity generation or demand side efficiency. An effective and stringent implementation of the CPP would contribute significantly to moving towards the pledged emissions level. The measures implied may prevent a reversal of the shift from coal to gas due to changing market conditions. Consequently, the CPP could potentially make a significant difference of 0.37 GtCO2e in 2030 compared to a scenario without the CPP, which equals to about 5% of 2005 emissions (6% of 1990 emissions, excl. LULUCF). If the CPP is rolled back, emissions in 2030 are likely to be similar to emissions in 2014, 7% higher than 1990, and 7% lower than 2005.
With currently implemented policies, including the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the US is expected to achieve emissions levels of approximately 6.70 GtCO2e in 2020—around 8% below 2005 or 7% above 1990 (GHGs excluding LULUCF); and around 6.37 GtCO2e in 2030—around 12% below 2005 or 2% above 1990 (GHGs excluding LULUCF). For the NDC target year 2025, projected current policy emissions result at 6.56 GtCO2e – around 10% below 2005 or 5% above 1990.
Without the CPP, US emissions are expected to level off, reaching approximately 6.72 GtCO2e in 2020—around 7% below 2005 or 7% above 1990 (GHGs excluding LULUCF); and around 6.74 GtCO2e in 2030—around 7% below 2005 or 8% above 1990 (GHGs excluding LULUCF). For the NDC target year 2025, projected current policy emissions result at 6.76 GtCO2e – around 7% below 2005 or 7% above 1990.
Under the current policy scenario, the US is unlikely to achieve its 2020 pledge or its NDC, even with the potential mitigation impact from the CPP. If the US were to fully implement the additional measures outlined by the Obama Administration in “The President’s Climate Action Plan” (CAP) in June 2013 (The Executive Office of the President 2013), it would achieve its 2020 pledge as well as its NDC target. Although some measures under the CAP have already been implemented, and will require additional effort to repeal or replace, President Trump has rescinded the CAP, meaning that further policies are very unlikely to be implemented. Without the CAP (or an alternative policy with comparable ambition) the US will not achieve its NDC targets. In addition, since the beginning of the Trump presidency, the EPA has announced that it will review not only the CPP, but also final performance standards for new power plants, methane emissions standards for oil and gas facilities, and emissions standards for light duty vehicles. If these policies were to be weakened or rescinded, emissions could rise above the current policy scenario. Conversely, increased state and local action, in addition to market pressures, may contribute to additional reductions.
The achievement of the mitigation targets can also depend on the level of sinks coming from LULUCF: the 6th National Communication, used in the CAT analysis, projects that the US LULUCF sector’s sinks will absorb between 0.614 and 0.898 GtCO2e in 2020 (10–17% of NDC target), 0.573 and 0.917 GtCO2e in 2025 (10–17% of NDC target), and 0.565 and 0.937 GtCO2e in 2030 (10–18% of NDC target) (United States of America 2014). The 2nd Biennial Report revises these numbers, predicting LULUCF sinks of between 1.044 and 1.191 GtCO2e in 2020 (18–22% of NDC target), 0.908 to 1.201 GtCO2e in 2025 (16–23% of NDC target), and 0.689 to 1.118 GtCO2e in 2030 (12–21% of NDC target) (in AR4 GWP terms). These higher values would make it easier to achieve the NDC target. There is high uncertainty in these projections, and the final level in future years could have an impact on whether the targets will be achieved. If the sink becomes larger than expected in the projections, it will be easier to meet the target. If the sink becomes smaller, even more policies in non-LULUCF sectors would be required.
Changes in the use of Global Warming Potentials from the 6th National Communication which used the Second Assessment Report of the IPCC to the 2nd Biennial Report which uses the 4th Assessment Report also influence the achievement of the target: the US has reduced methane emissions significantly since their base year 2005. Using GWPs from the 4th Assessment Report, these reductions up to date weigh more, and thus makes it easier to achieve the target.
Besides the Clean Power Plan, an important aspect of the Obama Administration’s CAP was its aim to increase energy efficiency in demand sectors, where it foresaw, for example, energy efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings, different financial incentives, and energy saving measures in federal agencies. Not all activities in the plan were clearly defined, nor implemented. We include two targets from the plan in our analysis: an overarching target to double energy productivity by 2030 compared to 2010 levels, and a target to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas production by 40–45% below 2005 levels by 2025 (The White House 2015). In previous updates, we included a target to double electricity generation from solar, wind, and geothermal sources by 2020 (over 2013 levels). As this target is projected to be achieved under the current policy scenario, we no longer include it in the CAP projections, which quantify the additional impact of the CAP.
According to our assessment, complying with the CAP targets would reduce emissions to around 6.1 GtCO2e in 2020 (about 16% below 2005 or 3% below 1990), 5.6 GtCO2e in 2025 (about 23% below 2005 or 11% below 1990) and 5.1 GtCO2e in 2030 (about 30% below 2005 or 19% below 1990). This would put the US not only on a trajectory to meet its 2020 target (lower end of the range excluding LULUCF) but also the NDC for 2025 (upper end of the range excluding LULUCF).
Areas of the CAP which have already been addressed include, among other measures, renewable energy technologies: the process of permitting installations of renewable energy systems on public land has been modified, which made it less complicated to prioritise renewable energy (U.S. Department of the Interior 2013b). Also, the auctioning of renewable energy projects is now an established process, which can accelerate renewables development (see for example U.S. Department of the Interior 2013a).
In addition, the Government has issued various energy efficiency standards, including fuel efficiency standards for light duty and heavy duty vehicles, whose effects are partially included in the Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) 2017 and thus also in our current policy projections. The standards for volatile organic compounds and methane emissions from oil and gas industry contribute to achieving the methane target and are included in the current policy scenario. HFC reduction measures under the Significant New Alternatives are also included in the current policy scenario.
In April 2015, the US Department of Agriculture announced the USDA’s “Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture & Forestry” (USDA 2015). It foresees a set of voluntary activities involving farmers and companies. The measures target reductions in emissions from agriculture (e.g. improved fertiliser use and other agricultural practices, avoiding methane from livestock) and land use and forestry (e.g. improved soil management, avoid deforestation and reforestation).
Historically, US emissions constantly increased between 1990 and 2007. The financial crisis from 2008 saw emissions drop. In 2010 they began to increase again, but 2011 and 2012 saw a downward pressure, mainly resulting from a strong shift to natural gas as an energy source and a decrease in total energy demand. However, 2013 and 2014 again saw an increase in total GHG emissions, partially from an increase in coal consumption. Energy related CO2 emissions declined in 2015 and 2016, due to a decrease in coal consumption (coal emissions decreased 8.6% in 2016) accompanied by a slight increase in oil and natural gas consumption (EIA 2017). This is consistent with a generally declining trend over the past decade.
Planned—but not yet implemented—activities are not included in our projections of emissions with implemented policies, as these will depend on future decisions and actions. These include the “North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership Action Plan” announced by Canada, Mexico and the US in June 2016 (The White House 2016). One of the important targets of this tripartite partnership is to increase the share of clean power generation up to 50% by 2025, including renewable, nuclear, and carbon capture and storage technologies.
Historical emissions are inventory submissions to the UNFCCC, reported in the Common Reporting Format (UNFCCC 2016). The US reports their inventory global warming potentials (GWPs) based on the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. To compare and sum up different gases on a common basis, the reported data were converted into terms of GWPs from the IPCC Second Assessment Report (SAR).
Targets for 2020 and 2025 were calculated from the SAR converted 2016 national inventory submissions. These differ from the illustration of the targets in the US’ 2nd Biennial Report (U.S. Department of State 2016), which uses GWPs from the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.
For the 2020 pledge, NDC, and long-term target, we apply the indicated reduction to the 2005 inventory data for 2005 including LULUCF, and then subtract the projected emissions for the LULUCF sector. The LULUCF emission projections up to 2030 were taken from the 6th National Communication, which reported sinks of 0.6–0.9 GtCO2e/a in 2025. (United States of America 2014). The 2016 CAT update used LULUCF projections from the 2nd Biennial report, which reported a sink of 0.9 to 1.2 GtCO2e/a in the same year. The methodological changes in the 2nd Biennial Report increased the sink from forest and land use by about 4.3 to 5.1%-points compared to the total emission level in the base year, 2005, rendering the target for the remaining sectors 3.9 to 4.6%-points easier to achieve. The sinks in the 2nd Biennial report were calculated with a different methodology than LULUCF in the CRF historical data for 2005, on which the NDC target is based, making these values incompatible with the historical data. We have therefore returned to using projections from the 6th National Communication in this update, which is consistent with the historical data. The LULUCF projections for 2050 were taken from the Mid-Century Strategy document and represent the full range of modeled sink scenarios in the report (The White House 2016).
The current policy projection was done in four steps:
To calculate the likely impact that the Climate Action Plan would have had, before it was rescinded, we focus on two economy wide objectives:
A target to double renewable energy by 2020 (from 2013) was included in previous CAT analyses, however, as this target is likely to be achieved under the current policy scenario, it is no longer included here.
Energy Productivity Target:
Energy productivity is defined as GDP per energy consumption (i.e. billion USD/quadrillion BTU). Energy consumption, energy related emissions, and GDP projections for 2030 are from the Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) 2017. Historic data for 2010 is from the EIA’s Monthly Energy Report from March 2017 (U.S. Energy Information Administration 2017b). To find the expected emissions reductions in 2030, we first calculate the energy productivity for 2010, then double it. We then calculate the expected energy consumption if the productivity target is met, based on GDP projections for 2030. Finally, we find the related emissions for this level of energy consumption based on projected values for the emission intensity of energy in 2030. Subtracting this value from the projected energy related CO2 emissions incl. CPP scenario gives the resulting reduction in emissions as compared to the current policy scenario. We assume a linear decrease in emissions from the last year of historical data (2014) to 2030. The total emissions reductions based on an energy productivity target are very sensitive to projections of GDP. Because of a units inconsistency between the historical and projected GDP values in the last update, the projected emissions reductions were artificially low. This has now been corrected, resulting in larger projected reductions.
Methane Emissions Target:
Projections for methane emissions from natural gas are from the 6th National Communication (United States of America 2014). Historic data is from UNFCCC 2016, converted to SAR. For future methane emissions from oil, we apply growth rates for crude oil production from the AEO 2017 to historic emissions data from UNFCCC. We then apply the target values for 2025. For 2030, we create two scenarios – for the minimum reduction, we assume that emissions level off after 2025, for the maximum reduction, we assume that they continue decreasing linearly. We expect that the EPA New Source Performance Standard for Oil and Gas Wells, which is included in our current policy emissions projections, will result in emissions reductions, and therefore subtract the projected reductions from the EPA for 2020 and 2025 from the projected reductions based on the target.
Reilly, A., 2017. Court suspends litigation on climate rule in win for Trump. E&E News.
The Executive Office of the President, 2013. The President’s Climate Action Plan
The White House, 2017. Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth
The White House, 2016. United States Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization
The White House, 2015a. FACT SHEET: Administration Takes Steps Forward on Climate Action Plan by Announcing Actions to Cut Methane Emissions,
U.S. Department of State, 2016. Second Biennial Report of the United States of America Under the United Nations Framework Convention, Washington DC, USA: U.S. Department of State.
U.S. Department of the Interior, 2013a. Interior Holds Second Competitive Lease Sale for Renewable Energy in Federal Waters,
U.S. Department of the Interior, 2013b. Land Management Rule Will Facilitate Renewable Energy Development on Public Lands
UNFCCC, 2016. UNFCCC AWG-KP Submissions 2016. Common Reporting Format., Bonn, Germany: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
UNFCCC, 2011. Compilation of economy-wide emission reduction targets to be implemented by Parties included in Annex I to the Convention,
United States of America, 2014. Sixth National Communication of the Unites States of America: First Biennial Report of the United States of America.USDA, 2015. Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry.
U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2017a. Annual Energy Outlook 2017
U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2017b. March 2017 Monthly Energy Review.