United States of America

By Lou Leonard, Vice President, Climate Change, WWF-US


Within the rules of Washington, the Obama administration has been quite proactive, pushing the political envelope on climate change policy. But science and nature don’t play by Washington’s rules.

As the world’s largest economy and one of the main contributors to climate change, all steps taken by the US to cut emissions can have big impacts on the health of our atmosphere and our planet. It also means stronger US leadership is both necessary and fair.

At home, climate change is a clear and present danger to America’s prosperity. That’s why, to maintain the momentum and trust that President Obama has built, he needs to deliver urgently. For example:

strengthening the Clean Power Plan

• taking action on methane & HFCs

• fair funding of the Green Climate Fund.

It also means finally rejecting the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline – showing the world the US is committed to a clean energy future.


Let’s look more closely at some of those actions:

1) Clean Power Plan. The biggest source of US emissions (over 35%) is the electric power sector. The Clean Power Plan, to be finalized through binding rules in June 2015, will set the first carbon pollution rules for new and existing coal plants in the US.

To make sure the US meets and exceeds its 2020 and 2025 international climate targets, these rules must be strengthened. The new rule for existing power plants would set a target of 30% reductions in emissions by 2030. That’s not enough to meet President Obama’s recently announced national 2025 target of 26-28% (the US power sector will need to ‘out-perform’ any national target).

These low targets ignore the revolutionary transformation that’s been happening in renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency. The new rule needs to accelerate and develop these cost-effective revolutions, not underestimate them.

In 2014, wind and solar alone constituted over half of new US electricity capacity. A recent analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists demonstrated that by 2030 the US electricity sector could reduce emissions by at least 40%. In June the target of the final rule should be strengthened to at least this level.

The Clean Power Plan also underestimates the potential of energy efficiency. An international survey last year ranked the energy efficiency of major economies: the US ranked 13 out of 16.

Energy efficiency is a simple, obvious, cost-effective step – for instance reducing energy waste, using high-efficiency appliances and developing better personal and business practices. This is not just low-hanging fruit – it’s fruit lying on the ground or already on the table.

2) Methane. A super-greenhouse gas, 35-100 times more potent at warming the atmosphere than CO2. Methane produces around 600 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions per year in the US.

The Obama administration recently announced a new set of proposals to tackle methane leaking from oil and gas production – but it was a mixture of regulation and voluntary initiatives. These steps should be mandatory whenever possible – and cover all controllable sources of methane emissions, including oil and gas development and transportation, coal-mining and landfills. If they do this across the whole economy they could cut as much as 90-100 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years.

3) HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons). HFCs and other so-called ‘F gases’ – commonly used in refrigeration, air conditioning and fire-fighting equipment – are even more powerful greenhouse gases than methane (some are 20,000 times more potent than CO2). So even incremental steps to control them can make a huge difference.

The US has been strongly championing increased international action on HFCs, but also has to make good at home. Emissions from HFCs in the US have increased by 310% since 1990 (since they started replacing ozone-depleting CFCs).

At least 100 million tonnes of emissions reductions could be secured in the near term through more aggressive action to reduce HFCs. Substitutes can be used that have less global warming potential, and technical improvements can reduce HFC leakage. The US Environmental Protection Agency is developing new rules for air conditioners in homes and vehicles, but this needs to be done faster and more comprehensively.

4) Green Climate Fund. The US made the biggest pledge to the Green Climate Fund. The good news is that President Obama recently asked Congress to deliver a first installment of US$500 million. But he’ll need all his negotiating powers to ensure Congress helps to honour this request – otherwise we risk eroding the trust and momentum the US has begun to build with other countries on climate change.

The Obama administration has moved the needle on climate change in Washington. Now we need them to push even harder to move the needle further – below 2 global warming. Our future depends on it.