Reaction: US makes first moves to tackle carbon emissions

Forcing coal-burning power plants to cut emissions may be first step towards a global climate deal

The United States (US) has made a long-awaited first step in attempting to reduce its carbon-dioxide emissions.

Under new rules, individual US states will have to submit plans to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 2016 showing how they will cut emissions from fossil-fuel burning power plants.

The long-term ambition, according to reports, is for the US to cut its national emissions by 25% by 2020 and 30% by 2030.

chinadialogue spoke to a number of experts to get their reaction to the news:

Evan Juska
Head of US policy, The Climate Group

Carbon standards for power plants are the centrepiece of Obama’s Climate Action Plan, and will play a key role in determining whether the US meets its short-term emission reduction target of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. The standards will face significant challenges over the next couple years, both from Congress and in the courts. The key task for the Obama Administration will be designing them in a way that strikes the right balance between ambition, cost and legality.

Martin Bunzl
Climate policy expert, Rutgers University

President Obama’s effort is far from a “done deal”. Legal challenges can be expected as well as “push back” from his political opponents. Moreover, because his regulations arise from a presidential order instead of a congressionally sanctioned law, they can be easily countermanded by a future administration.

That said, the abundance of cheaper natural gas in the US makes coal uneconomical as a source of electricity. Instead the domestic coal industry is looking to export markets in India and China as alternative customers. That fact underscores the continuing need to view carbon output in a global context as well as the need for its regulation. Whether country by country regulation of such output without an international agreement can work remains to be seen.

Andrew Steer
CEO, World Resources Institute

These new standards will catalyse investment in America’s thriving clean energy industry. In Georgia, Minnesota and New Mexico, renewable energy has emerged as the cheaper option for new electricity generation. The same holds true in Texas, which now has more wind-power capacity than all but five countries. Earlier this year, solar energy provided a record 18% of California’s energy demand. And studies show consumers save two to five dollars for every single dollar invested in energy efficiency. Smart climate policy simply makes dollars and sense.

WRI analysis finds that many states are well-positioned to meet or exceed the proposed carbon reductions through existing infrastructure and policies that are already in place. Importantly, the proposed standards give states flexibility to implement plans according to their needs. States will have multiple options to reduce emissions, including market-based approaches that will expedite the shift to renewables and increase efficiency to save money.