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15 Oct 2012

An Assessment of US Progress towards its Pledge on Climate Change Mitigation

Dallas Burtraw / Matt Woerman

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In 2009, President Obama pledged that, by 2020, the United States would achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of 17% from 2005 levels. With the failure of Congress to adopt comprehensive climate legislation in 2010, the feasibility of the pledge was put in doubt. However, we find that the United States is near to reaching this goal: the country is currently on course to achieve reductions of 16.3% from 2005 levels in 2020. Three factors contribute to this outcome: greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act, secular trends including changes in relative fuel prices and energy efficiency and sub-national efforts. Perhaps even more surprising, domestic emissions are probably lower than would have been the case if the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade proposal had become law in 2010. At this point, however, the United States is expected to fail to meet its financing commitments under the Copenhagen Accord for 2020.

Dallas Burtraw is the Darius Gaskins Senior Fellow and Matt Woerman is a Research Associate at Resources for the Future in Washington, D.C.