Two years after President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan, the administration has taken at least initial steps on all 75 of its goals, according to a new C2ES status report.
The Climate Action Plan aims to reduce overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. While some steps in the plan are simple and within existing policies and programs, achieving some of the plan’s goals will require a transformation of the U.S. energy system over a period that will outlast President Obama’s time in office.
Federal and state measures beyond those in the plan will be needed to achieve the U.S. pledge to achieve a 26 to 28 percent reduction in U.S. emissions by 2025 as part of the effort to reach an international climate agreement.
The Climate Action Plan, announced June 25, 2013, outlines goals in three areas: cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, preparing the United States for the impacts of climate change, and leading international efforts to address climate change. With Congress unlikely to enact major climate legislation in the near term, the Climate Action Plan relies almost entirely on steps the administration can take under existing laws.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already proposed rules to limit carbon pollution from the No. 1 source – power plants – which account for almost a third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Rules for new and existing power plants are expected to be finalized this summer.
The administration also has taken significant steps to reduce emissions from the second largest source, the transportation sector, with new fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks and proposed standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks built after model year 2018. The regulatory process to reduce emissions from commercial aircraft has also started.
The administration is also addressing two highly potent greenhouse gases, HFCs and methane. EPA issued final rules to expand the number of acceptable alternatives to HFCs and is directing federal agency purchasing toward more climate-friendly alternatives. EPA released a methane strategy last year and has proposed steps to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, agriculture, new and existing landfills, and coal mines.
The United States is also on target to double its renewable energy use from President Obama’s first term through 2020, a commitment in the plan.
On the second pillar of the plan, making communities and infrastructure more resilient to climate change impacts, 38 federal agencies have released Climate Change Adaptation Plans outlining how they’ll address climate impacts to their missions and operations. But only initial progress has been made on increasing the climate resilience of federal buildings and infrastructure. A state, local, and tribal leaders task force recommended ways the government could modernize programs and policies to incorporate climate change.
On the third pillar of the plan, strengthening U.S. climate leadership internationally, the administration has made climate change a top priority in bilateral talks with China and India and in the negotiations to achieve a new global climate agreement in Paris by the end of the year. In April, the United States became one of the first countries to formally submit its intended contribution to the agreement.
There has been and will continue to be political pushback against climate action from opponents in Congress and some states. The administration has pledged $3 billion for the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries advance clean energy sources and prepare for climate impacts, but it’s unclear how much Congress will provide. And a few states have said they won’t submit implementation plans to reduce power plant emissions under the Clean Power Plan.
Many cities, states, and businesses recognize that climate impacts are real and have costs. They’re already in action to improve efficiency, promote clean energy, and invest in resilient infrastructure. They can point the way toward a sustainable future.
But we will need continued leadership at the federal level to reduce the emissions causing climate change, to prepare for climate impacts, and to rally other nations to action.