Good progress on Climate Action Plan, but further to go

A year after President Obama announced a comprehensive plan to address climate change, clear progress is being made.

A C2ES status report on the president’s Climate Action Plan notes at least some progress on most of the plan’s 75 goals. In several key areas, the administration has taken important first steps, but it is too early to gauge their success or ultimate impact. With much more work still to be done, continued presidential leadership will be essential.

The plan, announced June 25, 2013, outlines goals in three areas: cutting carbon pollution, preparing for climate impacts, and leading international efforts to address climate change. With Congress unlikely to enact major climate legislation, the plan relies almost entirely on steps the administration can take on its own. And the nature, scope and ambition of the plan’s many elements vary widely.

A major goal is reducing carbon pollution from power plants, the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has met its deadlines for proposing regulations for both new and existing power plants, but the rules are not yet final, and implementation will likely take years.

In the transportation sector, the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, the administration had already dramatically increased fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks. The next step outlined in the plan is stronger standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks; a proposed rule is due early next year.

Several steps also have been taken to address two highly potent greenhouse gases, HFCs and methane, with more still to do.

The president’s plan recognizes that the impacts of climate change will be costly. Even with strong efforts to cut emissions, we must do more to strengthen the nation’s resilience to climate impacts. To this end, the plan commits federal resources to help make communities, infrastructure and ecosystems more climate-resilient. Steps so far include: the formation of a new State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience that brings together decision-makers from across the country to share their experiences; the release of the National Climate Assessment that describes past and projected climate impacts for U.S. regions and economic sectors; and the launch of a Climate Data Initiative that improves public access and usability of the government’s vast holdings of climate data.

On the international front, the administration is actively engaged in negotiations to achieve a new global climate agreement in late 2015, and is promoting climate action in other multilateral forums. One major step was a decision to limit U.S. public financing through the Department of Treasury and Export-Import Bank for new coal-fired power plants overseas, except in the poorest countries. Other countries and international finance institutions, including the World Bank, have followed suit.

The Climate Action Plan is the most comprehensive federal strategy ever for addressing climate change. It is critical to meeting the U.S. goal of reducing emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, especially in the absence of congressional action. The progress of the first year must be matched in future years if the plan is to deliver on its promise. It is up to President Obama to keep implementation on track.