U.S. stays on track to lower emis­sions

Paris ac­cord goals achiev­able

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Even as Pres­i­dent Trump was with­draw­ing the U.S. from the Paris cli­mate deal, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists — and for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama — said it didn’t mat­ter, and the U.S. was locked into a low-emis­sions fu­ture any­way.

With the dust of the de­ci­sion set­tling, an­a­lysts have taken a closer look and say it’s still pos­si­ble, though dif­fi­cult, for the U.S. to meet the goal of the Paris deal even with­out be­ing a sig­na­tory.

Fed­eral data show the U.S. is al­ready well over one-third of its way to­ward meet­ing that pledge, with net emis­sions in 2015 down more than 11 per­cent com­pared with 2005. Even with­out a com­pre­hen­sive fed­eral strat­egy to re­duce emis­sions, other fac­tors could con­tinue the down­ward trend.

State and lo­cal gov­ern­ments are un­der­tak­ing vol­un­tary pol­lu­tion-re­duc­tion mea­sures to make up for the fed­eral pull­back. In some cases, they have specif­i­cally adopted poli­cies de­signed to meet the Paris tar­gets. Lead­ing com­pa­nies also have re­dou­bled their ef­forts on en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and are tak­ing other steps to cut pol­lu­tion.

Per­haps most im­por­tant, tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments or mas­sive eco­nomic shifts — such as ma­jor steps for­ward on elec­tric

cars and re­new­able en­ergy stor­age, and the type of mar­ket shift over the past 10 years as util­i­ties aban­don coal in fa­vor of cleaner nat­u­ral gas — could pro­pel the U.S. to­ward its goal.

“Things can change very rapidly. … There is the po­ten­tial for some tech­no­log­i­cal break­through mak­ing it eas­ier than we think at the mo­ment,” said Kevin Kennedy, deputy di­rec­tor of the U.S. Cli­mate Ini­tia­tive at the World Re­sources In­sti­tute.

As part of the Paris ac­cord, Mr. Obama com­mit­ted the U.S. to a 2025 tar­get re­duc­tion of 26 per­cent to 28 per­cent be­low 2005 lev­els. That fig­ure was seen as op­ti­mistic under even a best-case sce­nario that in­volved fed­eral rules such as the Clean Power Plan, a set of gov­ern­ment of reg­u­la­tions lim­it­ing car­bon emis­sions from power plants and one that Mr. Trump is rolling back.

What’s clear, an­a­lysts say, is that it’s vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict where emis­sions will go. Even the harsh­est gov­ern­ment poli­cies may not have car­ried the U.S. to its 26 per­cent goal.

It’s also en­tirely pos­si­ble that the U.S. could hit its tar­get with no help at all from the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Al­though en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists were dis­heart­ened by the with­drawal from Paris ac­cord, they say that as­sum­ing the emis­sions goal is now unattain­able would be fool­ish.

“I think it would be un­fair to say it’s com­pletely dead,” said Maria Be­lenky, di­rec­tor of pol­icy and re­search at Cli­mate Ad­vis­ers, a pol­icy group that ad­vo­cates for car­bon emis­sions re­duc­tions. “We’re not start­ing from zero. To hit 26 [per­cent] is enor­mously hard, but we’re go­ing from about 12 per­cent to 26 per­cent. It’s not easy, but we’re not start­ing from zero.”

In­deed, data from the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency show emis­sions in 2015 — the last year for which full num­bers are avail­able — were roughly 11.5 per­cent be­low 2005 lev­els, mean­ing the na­tion is al­ready al­most half­way to the 26 per­cent tar­get. Emis­sions in 2015 dropped 2.3 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous year, data show.

A study from the Rhodium Group, a lead­ing re­search firm, found that emis­sions from en­ergy con­sump­tion — which ac­count for about 80 per­cent of all green­house gas emis­sions — last year were about 13.7 per­cent be­low 2005 lev­els.

Per­haps more im­por­tant, they were nearly 18 per­cent lower than what the fed­eral gov­ern­ment fore­cast in 2008, un­der­scor­ing the dif­fi­culty in pre­dict­ing trends. The 2008 fore­casts didn’t fac­tor in the mas­sive change from coal to nat­u­ral gas in elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion or all of the ad­vances in auto and ap­pli­ance ef­fi­ciency, or the rapid growth of wind and so­lar power.

The Rhodium Group study pre­dicts that even as­sum­ing Trump poli­cies stay in place and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment does lit­tle in the way of car­bon-tar­get­ing reg­u­la­tions, U.S. emis­sions could drop by as much as 19 per­cent by 2025 com­pared with 2005 lev­els.

“Re­new­able elec­tric­ity costs are tum­bling down. Nat­u­ral gas re­mains in­cred­i­bly in­ex­pen­sive. And there are new tech­nolo­gies that are look­ing like the wave of the fu­ture,” said Ash­ley Law­son, a se­nior fel­low at the Cen­ter for Cli­mate and En­ergy So­lu­tions. “All of these things are hap­pen­ing, and busi­nesses and con­sumers are mak­ing these choices for eco­nomic rea­sons alone.”

From the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s point of view, the fact that emis­sions could drop with­out strict gov­ern­ment poli­cies bol­sters the ar­gu­ment for pulling out of the Paris agree­ment.

“We have taken sig­nif­i­cant steps to re­duce our CO2 foot­print to lev­els of the pre-1990s,” EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt said this month. “How did we achieve that? Largely be­cause of tech­nol­ogy — hy­draulic frac­tur­ing and hor­i­zon­tal drilling — that has al­lowed a con­ver­sion to nat­u­ral gas in the gen­er­a­tion of elec­tric­ity. You won’t hear that from the en­vi­ron­men­tal left.”

The lack of fed­eral ac­tion on emis­sions, how­ever, doesn’t mean the gov­ern­ment is not mak­ing ef­forts. Dozens of states and cities in the af­ter­math of the Paris de­ci­sion have com­mit­ted to work­ing to­ward the pledge.

Hawaii, for ex­am­ple, en­acted a law this month align­ing its own emis­sions tar­gets with the national goals set out in the Paris ac­cord. Seat­tle, Philadel­phia, Los An­ge­les and other cities have made sim­i­lar pledges.

“They’re not step­ping back from the chal­lenge,” Mr. Kennedy said. “There’s oddly a sense of mo­men­tum be­ing gen­er­ated to some de­gree in re­sponse to the an­nounce­ment from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments such as wind en­ergy and mas­sive eco­nomic shifts could pro­pel the U.S. to­ward its goal as out­lined in the Paris agree­ment.

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