US submits long-term climate strategy to United Nations

The US has presented a long-term strategy for ambitious emissions reductions in the face of domestic political uncertainty, after Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a rousing speech to delegates in Marrakesh to assert that US climate commitments will not be reversed.

Just a week after climate-change denier Donald Trump was unveiled as the next White House occupant, the US has joined Mexico in becoming the first countries to publish long-term low-carbon strategies.

The US has presented a pathway for emissions reductions of 80% or more below 2005 levels by 2050. The strategy charts a path that is consistent with the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement – which officially entered into force last month –  with acknowledgement that the US will need to double the pace of emissions reductions after 2020 to achieve its 2025 target of a 26-28% reduction.

The plan states that the transition to a low-carbon energy system in 2050 will require cutting energy waste, decarbonising the electricity system and deploying clean fuels in the transportation, buildings, and industrial sectors. Renewables are expected to contribute 55% of the country’s electricity generation mix in 2050.

Technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) are cited as essential in delivering negative emissions in 2050, while the report also highlights reduction of non-CO2 emissions through new stringent standards and incentives to reduce methane from oil and gas production, and landfills.

Meanwhile, Mexico’s pathway is a 50% reduction of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 2050 compared to the year 2000. The strategy directs action in five important areas: the clean energy transition, energy efficiency and sustainable consumption, sustainable cities, reduction of short-lived climate pollutants and sustainable agriculture and protection of natural carbon sinks.

Global suicide

The strategies arrived on the same day that US Secretary of State descended on Marrakech to placate delegates with a message that the overwhelming majority of US citizens support the US action on climate change.

Speaking indirectly about president-elect Donald Trump’s vow to immediately pull the US out of the Paris Agreement, Kerry stated that the low-carbon transition would be dictated by market forces, rather than policy. The Secretary of State pointed to the fact that renewable prices have plummeted in recent years, with investment in solar growing by more than 30% since 2030.  

Kerry said: “No-one should doubt the overwhelming majority of the citizens of the US, who know climate change is happening and who are determined to keep our commitments that were made in Paris.

“I can tell you with confidence that the US is right now, today, on our way to meeting all of the international targets that we have set, and because of the market decisions that are being made, I do not believe that that can or will be reversed,” he continued.

“We literally can’t use one hand to pat ourselves on the back for what we have done to take steps to address climate change, and then turn around and use the other hand to write a big fat cheque enabling the widespread development of the dirtiest source of fuel in an outdated way, it just doesn’t make sense. That’s suicide, and that’s how we all lose this fight.”

Unyielding commitments

As the world’s largest economy and second largest GHG emitter, the US plays an important role in the global response to climate change. Kerry’s speech at the Marrakech conference joins a growing chorus of voices urging the President-in-waiting to keep the US in the Paris Agreement.

Yesterday, more than 360 US-based businesses and investors, including Ikea, Unilever, Mars and Nike, pledged to play their part – both within and beyond their operations – to limit global temperature rise to the well below two-degrees target established at COP21 last December.

As reports about Trump’s determination to walk away from the Paris Agreement emerge, delegates at COP22 in Marrakesh have forged ahead with ambitious new climate frameworks and bold pledges aimed at accelerating the global low-carbon transition.

George Ogleby

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