Thanks to the current dearth of federal leadership on climate change, the United States will fall short of meeting its 2025 target for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, according to a new report out Wednesday by America’s Pledge initiative.
State and local action can bring the U.S. within “striking distance” of the goal, said report author Paul Bodnar, managing director at the Rocky Mountain Institute, at the study’s launch in California Tuesday evening.
Without the federal government, the country can get close to the 26-28 percent drop in emissions (compared to 2005 levels) needed over the next seven years to meet the goals set under the Obama administration. Significant action taken by states and businesses could lead to a 21 percent reduction by 2025, the report predicts — just shy of the official target.
But with President Donald Trump’s plans to abandon the Paris climate agreement and steer the country away from action to address climate change, there is a significant gap in the federal leadership needed in order to fully achieve the Paris goals in time.
The U.S. is currently about halfway to achieving its Paris target. Under current conditions — with states, cities, and business leaders picking up the slack in the absence of political will — the report estimates that by 2025, economy-wide emissions will drop by 17 percent below 2005 levels. This would bring the U.S. two-thirds of the way to fulfilling its target.
Despite the current “hiatus in federal leadership,” as the report puts it, the country is seeing a “continual stream of ambitious policy changes, investments and decarbonization programmatic initiatives” from both regional governments and economic players, such as investment bankers, corporations, hospitals, and universities.
The report comes as the Global Climate Action Summit kicks off in California on Wednesday, where local leaders will reiterate their commitment to tackling climate change in the face of a White House led by climate science deniers and individuals tied to the fossil fuel industry.
“The best way to speed up innovation is to have a lot of different people trying,” said Carl Pope, co-chair of America’s Pledge.
Since November 2017, 18 cities announced greenhouse gas targets, making it a total of 142 cities with such targets across the U.S., representing over 40 percent of the country’s emissions.
Meanwhile, California recently announced a 100 percent renewable energy target. Hawaii earlier this year launched a plan to become carbon neutral by 2045 and Rhode Island has a target to cut emissions 95 percent by 2050.
And nearly half of America’s Fortune 500 biggest companies have set targets to cut their carbon footprints.
But as the report warns, “impressive as these efforts are, it has always been clear that commitments to date will neither ensure that the United States meets is 2025 Paris target nor establish a sufficient foundation for long-term deeper decarbonization.”
“Holding global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius,” it continues, “will require renewed engagement from all stakeholders and across all sectors, including the U.S. federal government.”
In addition to announcing plans last year to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the Trump administration has actively courted polluted industries. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the rollback of multiple regulations designed to safeguard air and water and help tackle climate change — including the repeal of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, regardless of the human toll — while the Interior Department has opened up public lands to industry.
There is some hope, however. In its analysis, the report assumes there will be no federal re-engagement on climate change until 2030. The United States’ emissions reductions trajectory could change dramatically with a change in leadership.
And while action by cities, states, and businesses can bring the U.S. just shy of the 2025 Paris climate target, they “have the ability to drive an accelerating rate of decarbonization of the overall economy by themselves,” Bodnar said.
In other words, these actors “have the power to bring the nation to the brink of that ambitious target,” he said, and then accelerate progress post-2025.