The Obama administration on March 31 formally submitted its plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
World leaders will meet in Paris in December to try to reach an international agreement to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide.
Environmental advocates say the formal pledge to reduce greenhouse emissions is an important step that might encourage other nations to follow suit. But even some supporters note that for an international agreement to be successful in helping address climate change, it must have teeth.
"It is clear the Paris process is already catalyzing countries to set goals for all to see. But beyond a new set of national targets, the Paris agreement needs mechanisms holding countries accountable for their promises, and built to last, regularly bringing countries back to the table to assess progress and keep strenghtening their efforts," said Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, in a statement.
The U.S. target, officials said on March 31, would be to reduce emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025, with a 28% reduction set as the optimal target.
Brian Deese, a White House senior advisor, told reporters that the submission—called the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC)—was “ambitious, and achievable within existing legal authority.”
The target was first announced in a joint meeting between President Obama and China’s President Xi in November. At that meeting, China committed for the first time to limit its greenhouse gas emissions after a peak at 2030.
Mexico, Norway and Switzerland have also pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in preparation for the Paris talks in December.
Todd Stern, State Dept. special envoy for climate change, said, “We have an opportunity this year to achieve an historic agreement that would establish an ambitious, durable regime genuinely applicable to all countries for the first time.”
Stern said the U.S. blueprint puts the country “in a leadership position in the climate negotiations.”
But some U.S. lawmakers are predicting that the U.S. targets will be ineffective in a world where some of the largest polluters—India and China—are not doing their share to limit use of fossil fuels.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to reduce emissions at existing powerplants by 30% by 2030 is expected to be finalized in June, and is considered central to the president’s strategy to address climate change.
The proposal has some powerful opponents, however, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
Inhofe said in a statement: “The Obama’s administration pledge to the United Nations will not see the light of day with the 114th Congress.…Under the Clean Power Plan, China will emit more emissions in one month than the $479-billion regulation will reduce in one year, rendering the minuscule environmental benefits pointless.”
On the other hand, Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), praised the administration for its “leadership in addressing the threat posed by climate change.”
Stern noted that the U.S. and other participants in the global talks are still working out the “legal form” a global pact might take. It might a document other than an international treaty, which would require ratification in the U.S. by a GOP-led Congress.
Sen. Inhofe has already said he would vote against a treaty based on the current plan.