The Trump Administration has spent 2018 systematically gutting US federal climate policy. If the proposed actions are fully implemented, greenhouse gas emissions projections for the year 2030 could increase by up to 400 MtCO2e over what was projected when Pres. Trump entered office. That’s almost as much as the entire state of California emitted in 2016.
In a series of rollbacks, the Trump Administration has put forward a weak replacement for the Clean Power Plan, proposed to freeze vehicle efficiency standards after 2020, and will not enforce regulations to limit highly potent HFC emissions. The administration will also allow methane leaks from oil and gas production to continue for longer before they are found and fixed.
In spite of federal inaction, indicators in renewable energy and electric vehicles continue to show progress toward decarbonisation and projected energy related CO2 emissions in 2030 are 3–7% lower than what was projected in 2017. Coal plant retirements doubled and emissions per unit of electricity decreased in the first half of 2018 compared to the first half of 2017 (CAT analysis based on EIA). In July, electric vehicle sales broke the 2% mark of all new vehicle sales nationwide, with front runner San Jose, California topping 13% in 2017. These encouraging trends will need to accelerate substantially to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
As the federal government turns its back on climate policies, all eyes are on cities, states, businesses, and other organisations to take action. Recent analysis suggests that recorded and quantified non-state and subnational targets, if fully implemented, could come within striking distance of the US Paris Agreement commitment, resulting in emissions that are 17–24% below 2005 levels in 2025 (incl. LULUCF). 22 states, 550 cities, and 900 companies with operations in the US have made climate commitments, and all 50 states have some type of policy that could bring about emissions reductions.
Even meeting the US target under the Paris Agreement would, however, be “Insufficient” to limit warming to 2°C, let alone 1.5˚C. 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.”
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.
1 | This is the upper end of CAT’s estimate of the impact on annual emissions in 2030 of rolling back: the Clean Power Plan (already excluded from the CAT current policies scenario) (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2018a), CAFE standards for light duty vehicles (based on CAT calculations), methane standards for oil and gas production (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2016), and HFC regulations under the Significant New Alternatives Policy programme (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2015). The lower bound of the estimate is 270 MtCO2e/yr in 2030. For more information click here.