Climate Change

What's in store for US climate agenda after Obama?

The success of Paris Climate deal depends largely on the political willingness of one of the largest emitters in the world

By Subhojit Goswami
Published: Tuesday 08 November 2016

America’s climate agenda after Obama

“For all the challenges we face, the growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other,” asserted the US President Barack Obama during his address at the Paris Climate Conference in December 2015. Almost a year later, when the US is on the verge of a leadership transition, its citizens are compelled to ask an important question: will America’s climate agenda fall apart without Obama?

It is not far-fetched to say that the Paris climate deal may get derailed depending on the outcome of the US elections since the success of the agreement depends largely on the political willingness of one of the largest emitters in the world. The US is not just the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but also one of the biggest emitters per head. As Sunita Narain said in an interview with Leonardo di Caprio, “Electricity consumed by one American at home is equivalent to 1.5 citizens of France, 2.2 citizens of Japan and 10 citizens of China, 34 of India and 61 of Nigeria.”

Hence, without the US, the efforts to reduce climate risks would hardly make any cut.

Obama’s efforts so far

The 44th president of the US created the country’s first carbon standards for power plants, ratified the Paris Agreement and updated fuel-efficiency standards for the first time in three decades. From pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025 to dramatically reducing financing for coal-fired power plants, Obama was prompt in prioritising actions related to clean energy. He directed his efforts towards finalising numerous energy-efficiency standards and building codes, apart from promulgating the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which is projected to cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 32 per cent by 2030.

While CPP has been dubbed as the “biggest step that any single president has made to curb the carbon pollution” it cannot absolve itself from the fact that it is misleading, as pointed out by a report published in Down To Earth. The report noted that “the so-called reduction of power sector emissions by 32 per cent from the 2005 emissions levels is not a target. It is a projection”. It also questioned the decision to consider 2005 as the baseline year for emissions reduction, since it was a year when the US emissions peaked. ”If the baseline year in CPP had been 1990—which is the baseline year chosen in the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change—then the projected emissions reduction by 2030, à la CPP, would have been a paltry 15 per cent,” observed the report.

While the Obama administration has figured out what that policy should look like, its implementation has not been worked out. Whoever succeeds Obama has to take up the job of directly working with the states and figuring out what their implementation plans are going to be.  

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