Since Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the United States in January 2021, his administration has adopted climate change as one of its main priorities, set more ambitious climate targets than the previous administration, reengaged in international diplomacy, but it has faced major setbacks in implementing domestic legislation. The US Congress has refused to pass key legislation: as a result we expect the US greenhouse gas emissions to only slowly decline and miss the 2030 target, let alone the pledged net zero target for 2050. Overall, the CAT rates the US’ policies, target and finance as “Insufficient ”.
President Biden’s approach to coping with inflation and other effects of high oil and gas prices in the short-term may compromise his long-term climate goals. The US banned imports of Russian oil and gas in response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. In order to compensate for the loss of Russian oil supply, President Biden is releasing one million barrels of oil per day from the nation’s strategic reserves for six months, announced plans to hold the first oil and gas leasing since he took office, and is encouraging oil and gas producers to drill and increase production. The US has also increased its LNG exports to Europe. These measures contradict the promise President Biden made on his first day in office - to ban new oil and gas drilling on federal lands.
Following a steep decrease in emissions in 2020 as a result of the COVID‑19 pandemic, emissions bounced back as the US economy recovered in 2021. The CAT estimates that US GHG emissions in 2021 increased by 6% compared to 2020 levels (excl. LULUCF), returning to pre-pandemic levels. The effects of COVID-19 induced a drop in emissions that helped the US meet its 2020 targets under the Copenhagen Accord.
The US target of halving emissions by 2030 below 2005 levels, submitted to the UNFCCC in April 2021 in combination with the US international climate finance are not enough to make up its fair share. Additionally, the US target will be out of reach if the US Congress does not match the level of ambition set by the executive branch and implement further policies.
The Biden administration further submitted an updated long-term strategy to the UNFCCC in November 2021, officially committing the US to net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. The CAT evaluates the net zero target as ‘Average’ given several needs for improvement to enhance the target’s scope, architecture and transparency.
The “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act”, signed into law in November 2021 with bipartisan support, aims to spur economic recovery and update the country’s infrastructure while accelerating climate action. The USD 1.2tn act, which is the largest federal investment into infrastructure projects in more than a decade, comprises investments in a wide range of areas that can indirectly enable the transition to a low-carbon economy, including the development of EV charging infrastructure, upgrading the power grid, and improving energy efficiency and electrification in buildings.
A separate and more ambitious bill (“Build Back Better”) contains most of the climate-relevant components that were left out of the Infrastructure Act, including payments to utilities achieving clean energy goals. However, it has stalled in the US Senate and is unlikely to pass in its current form. The midterm elections in November will define the chances of winning a majority in the US Congress that is aligned with the Biden Administration’s ambitious climate change, including the Build Back Better bill, and put the US on track to meet its climate targets.
In June 2022, the US Supreme Court ruled to limit the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. However, cheaper renewables are decarbonising the US power sector, driving coal out of the electricity market, and the ruling is unlikely to change that. However, this ruling puts President Biden's target of achieving a 100% emissions free electricity sector by 2035 even further into question. The decision also sets a worrying precedent for more cases coming through the courts that could affect other aspects of future climate action.
In the last year, the US took important measures to reduce GHG emissions in different sectors. In the transport sector, the Biden administration reversed one of the most detrimental rollbacks from the Trump-era and set stricter fuel economy and GHG emissions standards for passenger vehicles for model years 2023–2026. In the industry sector, the administration enacted a bill to phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) over the next 15 years.
Less encouraging, the US Congress approved USD 1bn for international climate finance for 2022, falling far short of President Biden’s pledge to provide USD 11.4bn a year by 2024, announced in September 2021. The low climate finance provision is not enough to make up its fair share contribution and undermines the credibility of stated US intentions to line up as a global leader on climate change.
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 an emissions level 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 needs to provide additional support to others.
The US will need to implement additional policies to reach its proposed targets. We project GHG emissions will reach a level 38%–43% higher than the NDC target in 2030, excl. LULUCF. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic induced a drop in emissions that helped the US meet its 2020 targets under the Copenhagen Accord.
President Biden signed into law the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act”, which invests in EV charging infrastructure, upgrading the power grid, and increasing electrification, among other measures. Although it is a step in the right direction, the US requires additional policies to be passed in the Senate to get on track to meet its climate targets, such as the more ambitious “Build Back Better” bill.
The Administration reversed one of the most detrimental rollbacks of the Trump-era, setting stricter fuel economy and GHG emissions standards for passenger vehicles. The Administration also enacted a bill to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) over the next 15 years. President Biden has set a goal to decarbonise the power sector by 2035, which is consistent with a Paris Agreement pathway.
President Biden’s approach to cope with inflation and other effects of high oil and gas prices in the short-term may compromise his long-term climate goals. The instability caused by high oil and gas prices unveils the vulnerability of US dependency on fossil fuel and underscores the need to move away from fossil fuels and accelerate the transition to renewable-based economies in order to achieve sustained energy independency.
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 positive effect of the effects of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that are not captured in our current policy projections, the CAT finds it more likely that 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 “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.
See full summary of policies and actions here.
We rate the US domestic target of reducing emissions by 50%–52% (or 44%–47% 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 44%–47% 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: Average. The Biden administration submitted an updated long-term strategy to the UNFCCC in November 2021 (U.S. Department of State, 2021b), officially committing the US to net zero emissions by 2050 latest. The net zero target covers all GHG emissions, makes transparent assumptions on CO2 removal by nature-based and technology-based solutions, and specifies several key components for comprehensive planning. The US government has several avenues to improve the scope, target architecture and transparency of its net zero target, such as including international aviation and shipping in its target coverage, and explicitly committing to reach net zero emissions within its own borders without any use of international offsets.