Next President unlikely to meet US emissions targets set in Paris

As Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton placed climate change in the spotlight during Monday night's (26 September) presidential debate with Republican nominee Donald Trump, new research has suggested that the US looks set to miss its 2025 emissions reduction pledge.

Clinton brought climate change to the forefront of the 90-minute debate at Hofstra University, reiterating her intention to turn the US into a “clean energy super power”. Regardless of whether Clinton – or climate sceptic Trump – wins the election, a new study published in Nature suggests that the US will overshoot its emissions reduction pledge by at least 550m tonnes.

Despite officially ratifying the Paris Agreement alongside China, the US doesn’t have the right policies in place to accelerate emissions reductions in line with what it pledged during the COP21 talks nine months ago, the report claims.

“If the policies were locked today, there would be a low likelihood of meeting the target,” Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s scientist and lead author of the study Jeffery Greenblatt told the Guardian.

“I wouldn’t disparage the US’s efforts so far, but we need to do more as a nation and globally to reduce emissions. However we splice it, that’s hard to do. We can’t make small alterations to our economy – we need fundamental changes in how we get and use energy.”

During COP21, the US pledged to reduce emissions by 26% to 28% by 2025 against a 2005 baseline. The study, which uses updated emissions data, suggests that the US would be left with an emissions gap between 550m to 1.8bn tonnes of greenhouse gases.

The analysis also accounts for the approval of current US President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which has a flagship goal to lower electricity sector emissions by 32% by 2030. Even with the Clean Power Plan approved – combined with policy reforms to emission standards for transport and farming – the US would still fall short of its pledge by between 356m to 920 tonnes.

Clash of climate-clans

Going into last night’s presidential debate, the US public was greeted with two vastly different outlooks on climate change and clean energy. While Clinton wants to build on the progress and pledges made by US cities in transitioning to a low-carbon economy, Trump has promised to cancel the Paris Agreement.

It didn’t take long for Clinton to go on the climate-based offense, as she called out her rival for claiming that climate change was a hoax.

“Some country is going to be the clean energy superpower of the 21st century,” Clinton said. “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.

“Scientists say it’s real, and I think it’s important that we grip this and deal with it both at home and abroad. And here’s what we can do: we can deploy half a billion more solar panels, we can have enough clean energy to power every home, we can build a new, modern electric grid. That’s a lot of jobs.”

Trump denounced the claims that he believes climate change was a “hoax”, instead arguing that Clinton, and the US’, venture into solar deployment had been a “disaster”. Trump also claimed that he was a “great believer in all forms of energy”.

With two more presidential debates scheduled for October, it could be that climate change’s place on centre stage was merely a fledgling appearance.

Matt Mace

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