Since Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the United States in January 2021, his administration has taken steps to address climate change as one of its main priorities and to reengage in international diplomacy to line up the US as a global leader on climate change. While the Biden administration has set more ambitious targets and broad plans for climate action, the US Congress will need to pass new legislation to put the United States on a path towards the pledged ambition levels and onto an emissions pathway to zero greenhouse gas emissions.
US emissions in 2020 were lower as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, though with significant fiscal stimulus and a strong vaccine roll-out prompting an economic rebound, emissions are expected to rise again without new policies.
The US has made progress on its climate policies and submitted an improved domestic target (Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) submitted to the UNFCCC in April 2021), although its emissions reduction target and provision of climate finance are not enough to make up its fair share. Overall, the CAT upgrades the previous rating of “Critically insufficient” and rates the US’ policies, target and finance as “Insufficient ”.
President Biden has already taken important measures to reverse the climate policy rollbacks of his predecessor, re-joining the Paris Agreement on his first day in office. Given the ongoing policy developments and the reversal of the rollbacks, the CAT finds it more likely that US emissions will follow the lower end of the policy projections range. However, the US will still need to implement additional policies to reach its proposed targets. We therefore rate the US policies and action as “Insufficient”.
Our projections around US policies and action do not include policies in the two pieces of legislation currently before Congress: President Biden’s USD 1tnAmerican Jobs Plan (infrastructure bill) or the much bigger, USD 3.5tn budget bill, as the two bills have yet to be passed by the House of Representatives and are subject to negotiation.
President Biden has directed agencies and departments to enact climate-friendly policies across the government and to review and address the promulgation of the climate rollbacks of the previous four years. In one of his first Executive Orders, President Biden reaffirmed the goal to achieve net zero GHG emissions by 2050 and set up a government-wide approach to tackle climate change, mandating the use of federal purchasing power, property and public lands and waters to support climate action, and establishing high-level interagency groups to facilitate coordination, planning and implementation of climate action at federal level.
He also directed heads of agencies to identify fossil fuel subsidies and take steps to stop them, suspended oil and natural gas drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and revoked the permits for the Keystone XL pipeline.
The American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law on March 11 2021, while primarily focused on COVID-19 and economic stimulus measures for households, also included a number of climate-relevant provisions. The law provides over USD 30bn to assist mass transit systems that experienced funding shortfalls from reduced ridership during the pandemic. The law also provides USD 350bn to state and local governments which play an important role in implementing and enforcing local energy and climate measures.
The contrast between this administration’s actions and intent on climate change could not be a bigger contrast with its predecessor.
The CAT rates the combination of the US 2030 climate targets, policies, and climate finance as “Insufficient”. The “Insufficient” rating indicates that the totality of the US policies and proposals need substantial improvements to be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit and are not consistent with any interpretation of a fair-share contribution.
The US 2030 domestic emissions reduction target (NDC) is consistent with 2°C of warming when compared to modelled domestic emissions pathways, but not yet consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit US policies and action in 2030 don’t lead to falling emissions pathways and would still result in emissions above its targets.
The US is also not meeting its fair-share contributions to climate change and in addition to strengthening its targets and policies also needs to provide additional support to others.
US will need to implement additional policies to reach its proposed targets. The projected COVID-19 induced drop in emissions helped the US meet its 2020 targets under the Copenhagen Accord. The emissions projections for 2020 are 20% below 2005 levels, which is 2 to 6 percentage points lower than the 2020 target (excl. LULUCF). The Biden administration has set the goal to decarbonise the power sector by 2035, which is consistent with a Paris Agreement pathway.
To achieve this, the Biden administration intends to set a Clean Energy Standard (CES) and invest USD 65bn on modernising the power grid as part of its infrastructure plan. These measures must still be approved by the US Congress.
President Biden has also begun to target emissions reductions in the transport sector. The Biden administration has set the goal to make half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 zero-emissions vehicles, which is not ambitious enough for a Paris Agreement pathway. Additionally, California is again able to set more ambitious emissions standards than the federal government that can be adopted by other states, a position the Trump Administration tried to outlaw.
We rate the US policies and action as “Insufficient”. The “Insufficient” rating indicates that the US’ climate policies and action in 2030 need substantial improvements to be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit. If all countries were to follow the US approach, warming would reach over 2°C and up to 3°C. The range of policy projections for the US spans two rating categories: “Highly insufficient” and “Insufficient”.
For such cases, the CAT evaluates which end of the range is more likely. Given the ongoing policy developments and the reversal of the rollbacks of the Trump administration, the CAT finds it more likely that the emissions will follow the lower end of the range. If we rated the upper end of the range, policies and action would categorise as “Highly insufficient”, and this would also shift the overall rating to “Highly insufficient”.
The Biden Administration proposed stricter fuel economy and emissions standards for passenger vehicles for model years 2023-2026 and a phase down in the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) over the next 15 years. The implementation of these proposed policies would lead to 2% reduction in emissions in 2030 compared to current policy projections.
The full policies and action analysis can be found here.
We rate the US domestic target of reducing emissions by 50%–52% (or 43%–50% excluding emissions from land-use, land-use change and forestry) below 2005 levels by 2030 as “Almost sufficient” when compared to modelled domestic emissions pathways. The “Almost sufficient” rating indicates that the proposed US domestic target in 2030 is not yet consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit but could be, with moderate improvements. If all countries were to follow the US approach, warming could be held at—but not well below—2°C. The proposed target represents a very significant improvement compared to its first NDC, the new US target is not stringent enough to limit warming to 1.5°C and needs further improvements.
The CAT’s assessment of the US’s total fair share contribution takes into account its emissions reduction target and its climate finance.
We rate the target of reducing emissions by 50%–52% (or 43%–50% excluding emissions from land-use, land-use change and forestry) below 2005 levels by 2030 as “Insufficient” when compared with its fair-share emissions allocation. The “Insufficient” rating indicates that the US fair share target in 2030 needs substantial improvements to be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit. Some of these improvements should be made to the domestic emissions target itself, others could come in the form of additional financial support for emissions reductions achieved in developing countries. If all countries were to follow the US approach, warming would reach up to 3°C.
We rate the United States’ international public climate finance contributions as “Critically insufficient”. The Biden Administration has committed to increase its climate finance but contributions to the end of 2020 have been low compared to its fair share. To improve its rating the US needs to ramp up the level of its international climate finance contributions in the period post-2020 and accelerate phase out of fossil finance abroad.
The US’s climate finance is not sufficient to improve the fair share target rating, and the CAT rates the US’s overall fair share contribution as “Insufficient”.
We evaluate the US net zero target as: Target information incomplete. President Biden announced the ‘Biden Plan’ during the election campaign in 2020. The ‘Biden Plan’ proposes net zero emissions for the United States of America by 2050, which we interpret as covering all GHGs. Although the target has not been legislated, the net-zero emissions goal is repeatedly mentioned in executive orders, which have the force of law, that refer to the implementation of policies or strategies that are consistent with this goal. The target was also mentioned in the official submission of the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), and other national plans, including the infrastructure plan (“American Jobs Plan”).
The full net zero target analysis can be found here.