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United States climate targets – INDCs — woefully short on ambition, says CSE

Amidst widespread anticipation and speculation, the US has submitted its climate action plan, or the ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (INDCs, as referred to in climate change parlance). The US target is a just a reiteration of its earlier pledge made in November 2014, which is “neither fair nor ambitious, and way short of what is needed to keep global warming under 2 degree centigrade” – say experts at Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

In its mitigation-centric INDC, the US commits to cutting greenhouse gases by 26-28 per cent by 2025 against the 2005 level. What this essentially means is that the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the US in 2025 will be 5 billion tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). Its per capita emissions would be 14 tonne CO2e in 2025. In comparison, in 2025, India’s total emissions will be about 4 billion tonne and its per capita emissions will be less than 3 tonne.

Further, the INDC is thin on details on how the target is going to be achieved. While it does mention policies and acts such as Clean Air Act, Energy Policy Act, and Energy Independence and Security Act, it has no data on sector-wise emissions.

CSE experts are bringing attention to how the world’s largest historical emitter is doing the least to address climate change. Sunita Narain, director general, CSE, lambasted the announcement saying: “The US INDC is even less ambitious than what was pledged in Copenhagen when the US had said they would be on the pathway to a 30 per cent reduction in 2025 and a 42 per cent reduction in 2030. This pledge falls short of even that weak target. And this is when the world is witnessing extreme weather events and unprecedented calamities attributable to climate change.”

Unpacking the US INDC
The baseline target of 2005 is arbitrary and masks the inadequacy of the US target. The 26-28 per cent reduction over 2005 amounts to just 15-17 per cent over the 1990 levels. In comparison, the European Union will reduce its emissions by at least 40 per cent (by 2030) – more than double that of the US.
All estimates show that to meet the 2°C target, US emissions should be at least 50-60 per cent below 1990 levels considering its historical responsibility of causing climate change and its present capability of solving it.
The US target involves all greenhouse gases as well as offsets from CO2 absorption from sinks such as forests and land use changes. This implies that the actual reduction of emissions will in fact be much lesser than the 26-28 per cent reduction.
There is no reference in the INDC to how the US plans to fund its pledge of US $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund. The fund to support the climate change plans of developing countries has received less than 1 per cent of the promises made till date.

Ironically, even these shallow commitments on the part of the US lack support domestically and the Republicans are strongly opposed to policies and Acts for climate change; particularly the rules on curbing pollution from power plants and federal policy on renewable energy. Opposition groups believe that there is high chance that such initiatives may not last beyond the Obama presidency period. Already, the Republicans and industry groups are trying to undercut proposed US Environmental Protection Agency power plant regulations, both by pursuing court challenges and by urging states not to comply.

“The shoddy efforts to cut corners on the part of countries historically responsible for and with the maximum capacity and resources to deal with climate change, only mean that it is certain that the world will go over the 2 degree C target. Thanks to countries like the US, the world would be forced to gear up for more catastrophic and irreversible climate change impacts,” concludes Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE.

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