Projected greenhouse gas emissions cuts for 25 states and Puerto Rico in the next five years will fall below the targets they set to fulfill U.S. commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change, according to a new report.
Collectively, those states are expected to cut emissions by only about 18% from 2005 levels by 2025, less than the 26% to 28% economywide reduction the U.S. pledged as part of the Paris agreement, the Environmental Defense Fund said in its report.
Furthermore, the same 25 states and Puerto Rico are expected to collectively reduce emissions by just 11% from 2010 levels by 2030, far below the 45% decrease the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change has recommended to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels to avert the worst impacts of climate change.
The analysis, which was based on emissions data from consulting firm Rhodium Group, comes as U.S. President-elect Joe Biden is preparing to reenter the country in the Paris agreement, raising questions on what new commitments the U.S. could make.
"Many states will need to put additional policies in place to close the 'emissions gap' between business-as-usual projections and their targets," the report said. "The divergence in projected emissions from these critical metrics shows that significant policy intervention is urgently needed to secure additional reductions by the end of the decade."
Since 2017, when President Donald Trump announced he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, 25 governors have joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of states committed to advancing the goals of the Paris pact. Louisiana, while not a member of the alliance, recently established its own goal to cut emissions by 26% to 28% from 2005 levels by 2025.
Some of the biggest gaps between state climate targets and the Paris commitment are in California, Colorado and Louisiana, the EDF report found.
Even under a low-emissions scenario, in which economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is slow, California's emissions in 2025 are projected to exceed the climate alliance target by 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, the report said. Under that same scenario, California's emissions in 2030 will be about 74 million metric tons above the IPCC recommendations for limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C.
However, the analysis recognized that the Rhodium Group could not fully measure the potential impacts of California's cap-and-trade program, including the impacts of the state's greenhouse gas reduction law outside of the power sector.
Along with Puerto Rico, the states signing on to the climate alliance or establishing similar emissions goals are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
Policies to close the gap
Popular state climate policies include 100% clean electricity requirements and low- or zero-emission vehicle standards. But to fulfill Paris-related goals, enforceable emissions limits will be essential, according to the EDF.
"Enforceable caps on carbon can act as a backstop that locks in emissions levels if specific measures to deploy clean energy and decarbonize particular industries are not enough on their own," the report said. An enforceable emissions limit can also be supported by a price on carbon and emissions allowance markets, the study added.
"Regardless of the specific suite of policies deployed, it is imperative that states focus on the targets they have set, acknowledge their current emissions gaps, and take action to achieve quantifiable reductions in pollution needed to limit warming over the coming decades," the report concluded. "This requires not only meeting existing targets but accelerating emission reductions in the near-term to minimize the cumulative buildup of long-lived climate pollutants in the atmosphere and the severity of the climate impacts that will result."