US offer for global climate treaty: 28% emissions cut

2015-03-31 09:38
The White House. (File, AP)

The White House. (File, AP)

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Washington - The United States will offer a roughly 28% emissions cut as its contribution to a major global climate treaty nearing the final stages of negotiation, according to people briefed on the White House's plans.

The US plans to announce its commitment on Tuesday, the informal deadline for nations to submit their contributions to the United Nations.

Although the goal of 26% to 28% by 2025 isn't new, President Barack Obama first unveiled it last year during a trip to Beijing the US proposal has drawn intense interest from the vast majority of countries that have yet to announce how deeply they'll pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions as part of the treaty.

Obama's pledge constitutes the opening offer by the US as world leaders strive to reach a climate deal powerful and ambitious enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change. In the works for years, the treaty is set to be finalised in Paris in December.

If it's successful, it will mark the first time all nations, not just wealthier ones like the US will have agreed to do something about climate change.

As part of its proposal, known to climate negotiators as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, the US will also assert that its contribution is both ambitious and fair, said the individuals briefed on the US proposal, who requested anonymity because the proposal hasn't been announced.

What metrics the US will use to back up that claim is not yet clear. The European Union, one of the first parties to submit its contribution, pointed to per capita reductions in emissions to show how it is cutting its carbon footprint. But emissions per capita are far higher in the US, making it an inconvenient measure for the US to use to show progress.

 Mexico's pledge

Instead, the US is expected to focus on the fact that the Obama administration has ramped up the rate of emissions reductions nearly twofold. Early in his presidency, Obama committed to cut US emissions 17% by 2020; his subsequent goal for 2025 pushes it to 28%.

The White House declined to comment.

The US and other developed countries have been aggressively pressing developing nations to step up on climate change, especially those like China and India that are heavily reliant on dirtier sources of energy.

Obama has described his strategy as "leading by example" and has sought to use the steps he's already taken to cut emissions to ramp up pressure on other countries to do the same.

But poorer countries have balked, arguing their more modest means make reductions more of an imposition and pointing out that historically, they're responsible for just a small fraction of the heat-trapping gases that industrialised countries have been pumping into the atmosphere for decades.

So when Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping both committed to curbing emissions in a joint announcement in November, environmentalists hailed it as a sign that reluctant nations like China were finally getting on board.

"People know that domestically, we're moving forward," US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said Monday at a luncheon hosted by Politico. She pointed to the US-China pact as Exhibit A. "If the two biggest polluters and the two biggest greenhouse gas polluters can get together, and two biggest economies, then we're going to be OK moving into Paris, and we should have momentum behind our backs."

Although all nations were asked to submit their climate targets by the end-of-March deadline, only a handful of countries are expected to meet it. In addition to the US, the EU and Switzerland, Mexico unveiled a pledge last week to cut greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants 25% by 2030, drawing praise from the White House and from environmental advocates.

The Obama administration has avoided putting hard numbers on the size of emissions reductions it expects from specific steps the US is taking. In its submission, the EU listed specific economic sectors — such as transportation, energy and manufacturing — where it expects major reductions, and named the specific greenhouse gases it plans to cut.

In contrast, the US is expected to point broadly to the steps it is taking under the climate action plan Obama announced in 2013, such as new rules requiring sweeping cuts from new and existing power plants, stricter emissions limits for cars and trucks, and initiatives targeting specific greenhouse gases like methane and hydrofluorocarbons.

Many of those steps ordered by Obama face major legal challenges and intense political opposition, raising the risk that they could be undermined or even discarded once Obama leaves office in 2017. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the US couldn't meet Obama's target even if his domestic climate plan were fully implemented.

"Considering that two-thirds of the US federal government hasn't even signed off on the Clean Power Plan and 13 states have already pledged to fight it, our international partners should proceed with caution before entering into a binding, unattainable deal," McConnell said.

Read more on:    us  |  climate change

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