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Wind and solar reached record shares in the electricity mix in the United States in 2017, as 6.3 GW of coal-fired capacity shut down, and fossil-fuel fired electricity generation experienced its steepest year-on-year decline since the 2008 financial crisis. This development comes despite the Trump Administration’s promises to boost coal, and according to the official U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2018 Annual Energy Outlook, renewables and gas are expected to increasingly replace coal in electricity generation in the future. Resulting lower emissions from the power sector, decreases in emissions from transport, and a methodological change in inventory data lead to US emissions projections that decrease slightly through the early 2020s and then level off in 2030—5% lower than the CAT projected last year.
Based on the Trump Administration’s intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, we still rate the US “Critically Insufficient.” On the CAT rating scale, we would rate US current policies as “Highly insufficient.”
The federal outlook on climate action has not improved. The Trump Administration has increased tariffs on imported solar cells and modules which may slow the uptake of solar technologies in the US. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering proposing a rule to replace the Clean Power Plan that would limit emissions reductions to actions at individual power plants, instead of requiring entire states to meet emissions standards. The EPA has also announced that it will weaken fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. And the Bureau of Land Management has delayed key requirements to reduce methane waste from oil and gas production until at least 2019, while the Department of the Interior has proposed a programme to expand off shore oil and gas exploration.
As a result, all eyes are on cities, states, businesses, and other organisations, over 2500 of which have signed an open letter pledging to “support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement” through the “We Are Still In” campaign. At least 21 of 50 states have emissions reduction targets, and recent analysis suggests that the full implementation of current recorded and quantifiable non-federal climate commitments could take the US halfway toward meeting its NDC commitments (Kuramochi et al., 2017).
These pledges are commendable and will need to be implemented and expanded to put the US on a path toward decarbonisation. Even meeting the US target under the Paris Agreement would be “Insufficient” to limit warming to 2°C, let alone 1.5˚C.
Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, which mandates a three-year notice period, the US Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) legally remains in place at least until the end of 2019, although the US intends to withdraw it at that time unless it has found suitable terms for reengagement, and the Trump Administration has already stopped implementation.
The NDC target is to reduce net GHG emissions by 26–28% below 2005 levels in 2025 including land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) (equivalent to 21–28% below 2005 levels excluding LULUCF, and equivalent to 9–17% below 1990 levels excluding LULUCF). On the CAT rating scale, the US NDC would fall into the “Insufficient” category. This means that it is not yet consistent with limiting warming to below 2°C, let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit, unless other countries make much deeper reductions and comparably greater effort. It is also at the least ambitious end of what would be a fair contribution for the US.
To meet this target, the United States would have had to implement both the Clean Power Plan and the Obama Administration’s full Climate Action Plan or equivalent measures. Current US policies are projected to reduce emissions only to 11 to 13% below 2005 levels by 2025.
The US has failed to submit its third Biennial Report to the UNFCCC by the deadline of the end of 2017. It is unclear if the State Department is even in the process of preparing the document, and the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, has threated to sue the State Department over the missing report (Green, 2018). One implication of the absent report is that it makes it more difficult for domestic and international organisations, like the Climate Action Tracker, to accurately assess future emissions development in the US, particularly for non-energy CO2 and non-CO2 emissions.