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The U.S. is behind on its climate commitments. Here’s how the Biden administration can close the gap

April 21, 2023

Yesterday, President Biden reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to achieving its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate. This reaffirmed ambition is welcome and came on the same day Clean Air Task Force (CATF) released a new study finding the U.S. is at risk of falling short of its commitments and outlining how the Biden administration can use its existing authority to get on track. 

The U.S.’s NDC commits it to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030, and while the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) are estimated to make significant emissions reductions, alone they are not enough. Our study finds that meeting the NDC goal will require strong regulations that significantly reduce climate pollution and improve air quality across four key sectors: power, industry, oil and gas, and transportation.  

With strong regulations in these sectors, finalized to the highest degree, our study finds the U.S. can hit its target. These measures would get the U.S. within 50 million tonnes (MT) of the NDC target, and better prioritization of carbon mitigation and sequestration in the agriculture and forestry sector by the U.S. Department of Agriculture can get it the rest of the way.  

Here’s how we conducted our analysis: 

We began with the final Princeton University REPEAT study showing the expected impact of IRA on greenhouse gas emissions relative to a baseline that included IIJA. Under conservative, middle, and optimistic scenarios, the study finds IRA reduces emissions between 0.5 and 0.8 GT CO2e. Considering the middle scenario, the remaining gap to meet the NDC is 810 MT CO2e (Figure 2). 

To help identify the biggest and most cost-effective mitigation targets, we then looked at how the IRA scenarios compare with a previous REPEAT Project net-zero scenario (Figure 3). We found significant mitigation opportunity in the power, oil and gas, industry, transportation, and forestry sectors. For the agriculture and forestry sector, we also considered the mitigation opportunity identified in a recent meta-analysis by Environmental Defense Fund and ICF that quantified the opportunity and cost of achieving a wide set of measures by 2030. 

We then crafted high-impact scenarios aimed at significantly reducing climate pollution that make use of existing regulatory authority and are based on proven mitigation technologies. This includes strong standards to reduce pollution from power plants, industrial facilities, oil and gas production, and vehicles (light-, medium- and heavy-duty). 

Working with Evolved Energy Research and using the same modeling platform and assumptions as Princeton University’s REPEAT Project coupled with our in-house experts’ methane projection model to estimate the impact of strong methane mitigation measures in the oil and gas sector, we found these scenarios come close to closing the NDC gap (Table 2). We also assessed that better prioritization of carbon mitigation and sequestration in federal spending programs for land management and conservation offers ample opportunity to cover the rest of the gap. 

The bottom line: We’ve run the numbers and reviewed the laws and found that the U.S. is off track, but the administration has the clear authority needed to take strong actions to regulate harmful pollution under the Clean Air Act, which will also help close the NDC gap. 

EPA is currently considering a suite of high impact regulations to lower greenhouse gas emissions, including strong rules under section 111 of the Clean Air Act. Today the window of opportunity is wide open to propose and finalize strong standards, but it is closing quickly, and there is no time to waste.  

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