How the Obama administration could hit its climate target, in 1 chart

The Obama administration has consistently said the United States can meet its 2020 climate goal of reducing its overall greenhouse gas emissions 17 per cent compared to 2005 levels. Now, in a new biennial report it will release for public comment Thursday, it explains how it can do it.

The 30-page report spells out how the climate action plan President Obama pledged to undertake in June — which includes carbon limits on new and existing power plants, stricter energy efficiency standards, and policies to curb hydrofluorocarbons and methane — could bring the nation within reach of its 17 per cent target.

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This chart shows how recent policies such as the administration’s support for solar and wind power and stricter fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, along with market forces like utilities’ switching from coal to natural gas, have cut the nation’s emissions in recent years. But unless Obama pursues other federal curbs on greenhouse emissions, they will begin rising again.

The report “outlines how US action on climate change puts us on a path” to meet its 2020 goal and would serve as “a benchmark” for other countries, which are obligated to report on their own climate policies next year as part of the UN climate negotiations

According to the administration’s estimate, overall US emissions will be between 14 and 20 per cent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade if the federal government executes the president’s climate action plan.

Heather Zichal, the deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, said at a forum Wednesday at the Bipartisan Policy Center , that the report “outlines how US action on climate change puts us on a path” to meet its 2020 goal and would serve as “a benchmark” for other countries, which are obligated to report on their own climate policies next year as part of the UN climate negotiations.

Daniel J. Weiss, who directs climate strategy at the liberal Center for American Progress, wrote in an e-mail that the report shows what is possible under the administration’s plan. “Hopefully, Congress will support this effort rather attempt to undermine it,” he wrote.

But Lou Leonard, vice president for climate change at the World Wildlife Fund, cautioned that the US will only fulfill its international climate pledge if it pushes aggressively on several fronts for the remainder of Obama’s second term. How the Environmental Protection Agency crafts its rule for existing power plants, he noted, will be as important as the fact that it plans to regulate their carbon dioxide emissions.

“The 17 per cent target is achievable, but not a foregone conclusion,” he said in an interview, “unless the administration uses all the tools in its toolbox, and does so with ambition.”

The new report could give some of the administration’s fiercest critics, including those in the coal and oil industry, one more reason to worry. While some of the policies it is pursuing as part of its climate goal are non-controversial, such as phrasing out the potent greenhouse gases used in refrigerants and automobile air conditioners, its push to curb CO2 from both new and existing power plants has sparked fierce opposition.

Juliet Eilperin covers the White House for the Washington Post and since 2004 she has been one of the country’s leading reporters covering the environment, reporting on science, policy and politics in areas including climate change, oceans, and air quality. This post originally appeared here

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