The US is Struggling with its Paris Climate Change Pledge


The US is Struggling with its Paris Climate Change Pledge

Per capita GHG emissions in 2005, including land-use change.
Per capita GHG emissions in 2005, including land-use change.

A new study has shown that according to last year’s pledges and agreements in COP21 Climate Change Conference in Paris, the US is struggling and will almost certainly fail to keep their promise made on an international level.

“We will likely fall short without additional policies,” said lead author Jeffrey Greenblatt of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

If we want to believe it or not, we have reached a point in today’s world where we have a tremendous effect on the delicate balance in our planet’s ecosystems. We are the first species in Earth’s history which has the power to completely influence the world around it. And the “big players” here need to take charge in making things right. This is why President Obama entered the United States into the race to becoming a beacon of hope and responsibility to the rest of the world. The treaty he signed commits the United States to reducing emissions by 26–28% of 2005 levels by 2025.

Jeffery Greenblatt and Max Wei of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory did the math. They analyzed the United States’ current range of proposed and implemented policies and laws (spanning the energy, transport agriculture and building sectors) and calculated how emissions will be affected.

“They said we’re going to make a 26-to-28 percent reduction, and here are the different ways we’re going to do that,” said Greenblatt in an interview. “We’re going to pass the Clean Power Plan, improve the efficiency of heavy-duty trucks…We just looked at each of those policies, and did the best we could to look at what the impact of any of them would be.”

According to the analysis, in order to make good on their promise, the US needs to reduce its greenhouse emissions by the equivalent of 4.553 billion to 5.478 billion tons. Estimates shoe that the country will come short by 356 million, or 924 million tons.

Image via Pixabay.
Image via Pixabay.

Methane and CO2

The bulk of global warming is caused by CO2 emissions. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and the world is emitting over 35,000 million tons of CO2 each year.

The US is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gasses after China, but the per capita statistics tell an even worse story. After the oil-rich Arab countries, only Australia has higher per-capita emissions than the US. The European Union, despite having a much higher population than the US, emits much less, so there’s a lot of room to improve.

If we want to target climate change, this is where we have to strike: reducing CO2 emissions. However, while several measures target CO2 emissions, politicians are really wary of addressing the elephant in the room: a carbon tax. Carbon taxes are cost-effective and efficient means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but they are strongly opposed by many industry groups.

Methane is another significant greenhouse gas. Basically, America is emitting much more methane than we previously thought. Earlier this year, the U.S. EPA increased its estimate for how much methane is being emitted by the oil and gas sector, and the study had similar conclusions.

“We made some corrections to the 2005 and 2025 estimates for methane,” says Greenblatt. In particular, he said, in 2005 these changes added 400 million additional tons of carbon dioxide equivalents emitted as methane.

It’s not all bad

All in all, both problems are addressed, but not quite enough. Still, the US is taking some steps in the right direction, and they’re certainly not the only country which will experience difficulties in achieving their goals.

“There is certainly need for further policy action,” Greenblatt concluded. But he added, “I think the U.S. should be complimented. They set their own target and they set out a path to meet it as best they could. I think if they need to work a little harder, that’s not an unexpected outcome.”