New U.S. Climate Target Is Achievable and Sends an Important Signal to the World

03/31/2015 04:16 pm ET | Updated May 31, 2015

US flag & wind turbine.pngToday the U.S. formally proposed that it would cut its emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. This emissions reduction target shows a commitment to strong action from the U.S. to cut its carbon pollution and sends a powerful signal to the world.

As NRDC President Rhea Suh said:

This important commitment sends a powerful message to the world: Together we can slash dangerous carbon pollution and combat climate change. This announcement builds on America's leadership that already is delivering notable breakthroughs, such as the recent commitments by China and Mexico to join the global effort. And that bodes well for a strong international commitment to fight climate change at the Paris conference in December.

We are confident that the U.S. commitment can be met -- and even exceeded. Doing so, though, will require several critical steps: setting a stronger carbon pollution standard through President Obama's Clean Power Plan, enacting other greenhouse gas reductions, limiting methane leaks from production processes and investing in clean transportation instead of letting big oil plunder our precious oceans and landscapes. Taken together, these steps will help combat the gravest environmental threat of our time.

This announcement comes as a part of the international effort to secure a new agreement this December in Paris, France. The target was first announced in November 2014, alongside a commitment from China to peak its carbon pollution and expand clean energy. As the official statement says:

The United States intends to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26%-28% below its 2005 level in 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%.

President Obama has set in motion many carbon-cutting actions pursuant to an earlier target of cutting U.S. carbon emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. These include carbon pollution standards for America's power plants, improved vehicle efficiency standards, appliance efficiency standards, efforts to address methane, and standards to reduce the climate pollution of coolants used in air conditioners and refrigerators. I suspect that President Obama isn't done yet on these and other efforts before he leaves office.

The new U.S. commitment to cut total national emissions to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 is achievable with strong, sustained actions. Under existing law we have consistently found that the U.S. can reduce its emissions 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The U.S. can meet both its 2020 and 2025 targets using existing laws like the Clean Air Act, energy efficiency laws, and protecting our public lands and waters. New acts of Congress may be needed in the long term, but the U.S. president can take a big bite out of U.S. climate pollution using the laws already on the books. As the White House notes, "The United States' target is ambitious and achievable, and we have the tools we need to reach it."

This means strengthening the carbon pollution standards for the power sector, implementing stronger oil and gas methane standards, adopting more standards to reduce the climate pollution of coolants used in air conditioners and refrigerators, strengthening carbon pollution and fuel economy standards for vehicles and investing in smarter transportation, further reducing the energy used by our buildings and appliances, and rejecting Big Oil's bid to lock in decades of carbon pollution by developing major new reserves, starting with our threatened Arctic and Atlantic Oceans.

The new targets suggest a doubling of the annual rate of improvement that will have occurred between 2005 and 2020 to meet the current target. These can be achieved cost-effectively while helping create jobs and achieve important health benefits for our children.

We also know the target can be achieved because clean energy is real, being implemented at scale, and happening more quickly than most predicted just a few short years ago. For example, as a new study from the U.S. Department of Energy found, getting a mere 35 percent of America's electricity from wind means cheaper energy, hundreds of thousands of new jobs, public health improvements, and huge climate benefits. Time and again American ingenuity, entrepreneurs, and workers have risen to the challenge. Why would some question our ability to unleash these same dynamics on climate change?

And domestic action at home sends a powerful signal to the world.

For almost two decades, inaction on climate change in the U.S. has been a major stumbling block to securing strong international action on climate change. Other countries often perceived that the U.S. wasn't willing to walk the walk. But strong domestic action from the U.S. in the past couple of years has begun to change that perception. I now hear more positive reactions about U.S. climate action from government officials in London, Delhi, and Beijing than just a few years ago.

When the U.S. is willing to step forward domestically, it can have a catalyzing impact in other countries. This is evident in the new commitment from China to peak its emissions -- a commitment no one thought was possible just a few short years back. This commitment occurred only after the U.S. showed that it was taking strong domestic action by implementing a series of measures as outlined in the Climate Action Plan, and willing to strengthen that commitment with even stronger targets for 2025. When the world's largest economy acts, it sends a powerful signal to other governments that they also can and must act aggressively on climate change.

This U.S. action couldn't come at a more critical juncture in efforts to address climate change as leaders meet later this year to finalize a new international agreement to address climate change. This agreement will solidify even deeper commitments from key countries around the world. Already the European Union, Switzerland, Mexico, and China have announced the outlines of their new commitments as a part of this agreement. To date, countries accounting for 58 percent of carbon pollution from the energy sector have announced post-2020 climate targets. And more countries around the world like India, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa, and Indonesia are diligently working on their proposed targets as a part of the international agreement.

We are confident that the U.S. can meet its carbon emissions reduction target. We know it can be done because America has risen to the challenge before. And we know that U.S. action at home sends a powerful signal to the world.

Photos: U.S. flag, courtesy of Mark Stevens under Creative Commons license; Wind turbine in U.S. courtesy of quas under Creative Commons license