The U.S. will fall far short of its Paris climate goals, thanks to the environmental policy rollbacks carried out under the Trump administration, a new analysis suggests. The news comes as President Trump is still considering a formal withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, with a possible decision expected after the Group of Seven meeting later this month.
But China and India are on track to overachieve on their climate pledges, the analysis adds, meaning their efforts may help make up for shortcomings in the U.S. The study was released Monday by the Climate Action Tracker, a joint project among nonprofit organizations Climate Analytics and NewClimate Institute and climate consulting agency Ecofys that monitors government action on climate change.
China and India “are going to slow the global growth in CO2 emissions significantly, the United States’ actions under President Trump will offset that a bit, but not sufficient to actually stop that slowing of the global growth of emissions,” said Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics and a senior scientist with the organization, at a Monday news conference to introduce the new findings.
Under the Paris climate agreement, the U.S. pledged to lower its carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent below their 2005 levels by the year 2025. To meet that goal, the analysis points out, the federal government would have had to implement the full climate action plan outlined by the Obama administration — which involved a variety of carbon-cutting strategies, including the expansion of clean energy, energy efficiency programs and more advanced transportation technology, and most of all, the Clean Power Plan.
As of the end of the Obama administration, the full climate action plan had yet to be fully rolled out. But if all currently implemented environmental policies were to remain in place, including the Clean Power Plan, the analysis suggests that the U.S. would only manage to reduce emissions 10 percent below their 2005 levels by the year 2025. Without the Clean Power Plan, the study puts this number at just 7 percent below 2005 levels.
Under the Trump administration — which has already canceled the implementation of Obama’s climate action plan, rolled back a number of environmental regulations and placed a hold on the ongoing lawsuit surrounding the Clean Power Plan — the assessment suggests U.S. emissions will likely stop declining altogether and flatline instead.
Coming to this conclusion was a challenge, according to Niklas Höhne, a founding partner at the NewClimate Institute and a professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, because the future of U.S. environmental policy under Trump remains so uncertain.
“The Trump administration has said that they want to take away and roll back policies that have already been implemented, and the question is whether that will really happen,” he noted at the news conference.
The Clean Power Plan, for instance, is facing a likely demise. And the future of other policies, such as the stringent fuel economy standards implemented under the Obama administration, remain even less sure. The Trump administration has reopened a review of the standards at the urging of the automobile manufacturing industry and other critics — meaning it may or may not decide to weaken or repeal them at a later date.
But the analysis concludes that if these climate policies are removed, and they’re not adequately compensated for by other local-level efforts — an outcome that, for now, appears likely — “emissions could, in our best estimate, be kind of flat for the next few years, and the U.S. would be on a path definitely to fail to meet its” Paris goal, Höhne said.
But the analysis finds that China and India are both on track to exceed their goals under the Paris agreement, meaning they may be able to largely pick up the U.S.’s slack.
Under the Paris agreement, China has pledged to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2030 and increase the non-fossil fuel share of its energy consumption to around 20 percent. And India has pledged to boost its non-fossil fuel energy share to at least 40 percent by 2030. Now, new developments in both countries’ energy landscapes have put them ahead of the game in terms of meeting their goals.
Largely thanks to a decrease in coal consumption in both countries, the analysis suggests that annual emissions from the two countries combined are on track to be about 2 billion to 3 billion tons lower in the year 2030 than previous estimates have indicated. This is more than enough to outweigh the actions of the Trump administration, which the analysis suggests will likely make a difference of about 400 million tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2030 compared to what they would have been otherwise.
In India, a new draft energy plan released late last year significantly reduced the country’s plans for additional coal capacity through the year 2027 — cutting the plans from about 230 additional gigawatts of coal capacity to just 50 gigawatts. The plan suggests that by 2027, more than half the nation’s electricity capacity will come from non-fossil fuel sources.
And China — the world’s greatest consumer of coal and emitter of greenhouse gases — has now seen three consecutive years of declining coal consumption.
“It is unclear whether these last three years are merely a pause in a steady growth or whether this is a sign of China having reached its peak in coal consumption,” said Yvonne Deng, a managing consultant at Ecofys. “But if it is a peak, and if coal consumption continues to decrease at a similar rate, then this could lead to emissions in 2030 being around one to two gigatons lower than our estimate last year. And combining these effects of these two reductions in emissions from decreasing coal use in India and China, we estimate that CO2 emissions in 2030 could reduce by around two to three gigatons.”
The actions of other governments — particularly the European Union — will also remain significant factors in the future of global emissions. And previous analyses have pointed out that even if all participating nations lived up to their pledges under the Paris agreement, it would likely still not be enough to keep global temperatures within 1.5 to 2 degrees of their preindustrial levels, the globally determined climate goal established at Paris. In fact, one recent study indicated that the world is on track to blow past the 1.5-degree goal within the next 15 years.
To prevent this from happening, the Paris agreement encourages nations to continually strengthen and update their own pledges — the exact opposite of what is happening in the U.S.
“We are always saying that countries need to ramp up their ambition, so increase their ambition, and in the U.S. it’s going in the wrong direction,” Höhne said.