U.S. CO2 Output Projected to Be Above 1990 Level in 2030

U.S. carbon emissions are projected to remain above 1990 levels in 2030, even after U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration announced new rules to slash greenhouse gases from power plants by almost a third.

Total U.S. emissions in 2030 will probably be 10 percent below 2005 levels, which translates to 5 percent above the 1990 total, according to a report today from the Climate Action Tracker, which analyzes global efforts to fight climate change. That compares with Obama’s target to slash greenhouse gases 17 percent from 2005 to 2020.

The U.S. says it’s on track to meet its 17 percent reduction pledge. The Environmental Protection Agency outlined on June 2 new rules to slash emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030. These facilities account for about a third of domestic emissions.

“It’s one piece of the puzzle that helps the U.S meet its pledge,” Niklas Hoehne, director of energy and climate policy at the consultant Ecofys and one of the report’s authors told reporters today in Bonn, Germany, where 12 days of United Nations climate treaty talks began today. “It’s insufficient to meet their pledge entirely without additional measures.”

The U.S. delegation in Bonn referred questions to the White House, which didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed question outside office hours. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in April that total emissions in 2012 were already 10 percent below 2005 levels, or more than halfway to meeting their 2020 pledge.

Policy Implementation

With current carbon-reduction policies, the U.S. is still 700 megatons of carbon dioxide away from meeting its 2020 goal and the new power-plant rules would close the gap by just 200 megatons, leaving them 500 megatons short, Hoehne said.

“There are other sectors -- there’s industry and transport, and they also drive emissions,” Hoehne said. “To reach the target the U.S. has set itself, they have to implement policy in all these areas.”

Progress relative to 1990 levels is important, because that’s the base year for the Kyoto Protocol, the only international treaty limiting greenhouse gases, which the U.S. signed, but never ratified. Under that accord, the U.S. would have had to reduce emissions by 7 percent from 1990 to 2012.

U.S. officials are “applauding themselves on baby steps,” Asad Rehman, a climate campaigner for the environmental group Friends of the Earth, told reporters in Bonn. “They should have delivered this pledge by 2012. It shows how far away they are from a promise that should have been delivered in 2012.”

Global Accord

Envoys from 190 nations aim to devise a new global agreement on climate change at a meeting in Paris next year, to replace the Kyoto Protocol from 2020. Their goal is to cap global warming since industrialization began to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). UN scientists project temperatures will rise by 3.7 to 4.8 degrees by 2100.

Limiting warming to below 2 degrees would require reducing total global emissions to zero sometime from 2060 to 2080, according to Climate Action Tracker. Emissions from industry and burning fossil fuels would have to be eliminated even sooner -- between 2045 and 2065, it said.

Achieving those reductions mean developed countries would have to cut their total emissions by as much as 55 percent from 1990 to 2030, according to today’s study. In developing countries, emissions will also have to be on a downward trajectory by the 2020s, it found.

Ecofys, an energy consultant with offices in the U.S., China, Germany, the U.K. and the Netherlands, is one of three organizations that run the Climate Action Tracker program. The others are Climate Analytics and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, both based in in Potsdam, Germany.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.