Last month the US joined 175 countries in signing on to the Paris Agreement. A new analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows how much current power sector policies contribute to the US 2025 global warming emission reduction goals. The bottom line: they make a serious dent in emissions but much more is needed to deliver on the promise of Paris.
Delivering on the US 2025 emission reduction goals
Over a year ago, in the lead up to Paris, the US announced its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), with an economy-wide goal of reducing its global warming emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
Delivering on this commitment requires the implementation of a number of policies, including the Clean Power Plan, vehicle efficiency standards, energy efficiency standards, methane standards, limits on HFCs, and efforts to safeguard the land sink, as outlined in the 2016 Biennial Report of the U.S. to the UNFCCC (see Fig 6 on p. 39).
The new UCS analysis, Accelerating Toward a Clean Energy Economy, shows that the power sector can contribute about a third of the 2025 economy-wide emission reductions, through the combined effect of the Clean Power Plan, the recent extensions of the federal tax credits for wind and solar energy, and other existing state and federal policies.
Two key insights emerge from this analysis
- We cannot stay on track to meet our 2025 goals without the Clean Power Plan (CPP) and other state and federal clean energy policies in place. As my colleague Jeff Deyette explains, the tax credit extensions help drive nearer term renewable energy deployment and emission reductions, while the CPP helps to continue that momentum. These cost-effective emission reductions in the power sector are a key contributor to economy-wide emissions.
- Even with these current power sector policies, meeting our 2025 goals remains a stretch unless we also implement new and strengthened economy-wide policies. We will need additional policies to drive down global warming emissions in the power, transportation, industrial, commercial and residential sectors, as well as ensure sequestration of emissions in the land sink.
Good progress on power sector carbon emissions–but we need more policy action
In many ways, clean energy progress is already underway in the power sector. For example, just yesterday EIA released data showing that US energy-related CO2 emissions declined in 2015. This is in large part due to changes in the power sector including a continued shift away from coal to cheaper, lower carbon resources such as natural gas, wind, and solar energy, as well as greater energy efficiency. EIA data also shows that wind capacity additions ranked first in 2015, followed by natural gas and solar, and in 2016 solar additions are projected to be #1 followed by natural gas and wind.
However, we have to take steps to make deeper cuts in our emissions, including:
- Further cuts in power sector emissions by ramping up renewable energy and energy efficiency
- Increased energy efficiency in appliances, buildings, and industrial applications
- Measures to address growing methane emissions by setting standards for new and existing oil and gas operations
- Continued progress on vehicle efficiency standards
- Steps to cut hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) through adopting a Montreal Protocol phasedown amendment in 2016
- Efforts to safeguard and enhance the sequestration of carbon in forests and other so-called land sinks
We need even stronger policies to meet the Paris goal of long term decarbonization, which would essentially require developed countries like the US to reach net zero emissions by mid-century (with all countries reaching that goal in the latter half of the century). Studies show that for the energy sector that means a continued, rapid shift to renewable and zero-carbon energy and greater energy efficiency, alongside greater electrification of transportation, heating/cooling, and other residential and industrial uses of energy.
All these goals will require much greater ambition from future administrations and Congress as they build on the legacy of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan.
There is no single silver bullet solution but a meaningful price on carbon would be a very good start.