Rio. Kyoto. Buenos Aires. Copenhagen. Doha. Those are some of the cities where global leaders have held climate conferences in the past two decades. While some of the talks resulted in agreements to reduce emissions, none produced a plan to cut global warming pollution anywhere close to the amount needed to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. Part of the reason was that the U.S. refused to fully participate and endorse a plan to reduce pollution.
Paris. That’s the location of the next U.N. climate conference, and there’s reason to hope that the outcome of the Paris talks might be different. In advance of the Paris conference, the U.S. has pledged that it will reduce its emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Several other major polluters have also made strong commitments, including China and Brazil, just today.
More important than the United States’ pledge to cut its emissions is the fact that the nation already has policies in place to achieve much of this emission reduction. A new Frontier Group and Environment America Research & Policy Center report, Path to the Paris Climate Conference, estimates how much the U.S. might reduce its carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuel combustion by 2025 from policies already in place. State and federal policies to cut pollution from power plants, improve the efficiency of homes and businesses, and reduce fuel use in passenger vehicles and freight trucks, along with other measures, could cut carbon dioxide pollution by 27 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
This doesn’t mean the U.S. has done everything it should to address the challenge of global warming. First, the U.S. still needs to address emissions from pollutants other than carbon dioxide, such as methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases. Emissions of many of these powerful global warming pollutants are projected to rise without new strong new policies to set limits. Second, reducing all emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels is only the first step. By 2050, the U.S. should slash pollution by at least 80 percent as part of a global effort to limit warming to 2° C, the level at which the most severe impacts of warming may be avoided. Third, the U.S. will need to help broker a strong agreement at the Paris climate conference to secure emission reductions from all major polluters by 2025 and to lay the framework for additional future reductions.
Associate Director and Senior Policy Analyst, Frontier Group
Elizabeth Ridlington is associate director and senior policy analyst with Frontier Group. She focuses primarily on global warming, toxics, health care and clean vehicles, and has written dozens of reports on these and other subjects. Elizabeth graduated with honors from Harvard with a degree in government. She joined Frontier Group in 2002. She lives in Northern California with her husband and son.