With talks on a global climate deal in Paris on the horizon, the world’s been asking what the United States will do. After all, with the US being both the world’s biggest economy and second biggest polluter, the direction it takes will go a long way to setting the tone for negotiations at COP21 in Paris. Go small or unrealistic, and we could be looking at another should’ve-would’ve-could’ve in December. Go big and achievable and we’ve got a shot at a strong deal that gets us heading in the right direction.
Today, the US government gave the answer, officially submitting its initial commitment for COP21. The commitment, known as an intended nationally determined contribution, or “INDC,” is the culmination of a long process including everything from a historic joint agreement with China to landmark policies at home.
What’s In It?
As expected, the US committed to:
- Reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 26–28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025; and
- Accomplishing this goal with existing regulatory authority – notably the EPA Clean Power Plan and fuel economy standards for vehicles.
So what does the US INDC mean for COP21, and how is it different from past pledges?
Some Background: What Is an INDC?
An INDC is a country’s post-2020 plan for action on climate change. After each country submits its INDC (the ideal deadline is March 31, though countries can, and will take longer), the UN will analyze them as a group in October to assess their collective impact. Countries as a whole will then include these INDCs as part of the agreement signed at COP 21 in Paris. Once inscribed in the agreement, the INDC becomes a final, nationally determined contribution (NDC).
The important part of an INDC is that it is nationally determined. The idea is that every nation knows what it can do, so countries agreed that they would allow each other to put forward their best plan for the world to see.
For a developed country like the US, economy-wide, absolute emissions reductions are possible — and already happening. For developing countries that have only minimal responsibility for climate change and are working to boost their populations out of poverty, this might mean a different kind of commitment – like an “intensity” target that reduces emissions per unit of GDP growth.
INDCs aren’t limited to what a country does within its borders, either. Some may include actions to help the world adapt to the impacts of climate change. Some developed countries may commit to helping developing nations build resilience to climate impacts and reduce emissions.
Ideally, each INDC is ambitious in its targets, transparent in how it gets there, and represents a fair share of the nation’s responsibility for addressing climate change, based on its historical emissions and current capabilities.
How Did the US Do?
The US INDC represents the first time that the United States has committed to reducing carbon pollution based on real world targets with real world policies and regulatory authority. This on its own is a very significant and positive step.
That said, there is more work to be done, and we have to keep pushing for stronger targets down the road. With renewable energy prices falling rapidly, it will soon be easier to make even deeper cuts in emissions.
We also have to keep pressing lawmakers to pass more permanent domestic legislation that would keep us on a path towards a sustainable future powered by renewable energy.
Which is all to say that for a first step, the US INDC is a good one. Now it’s up to us to keep things moving forward.
How Will the US INDC Affect Paris?
A strong agreement in Paris won’t happen without US leadership. By submitting its INDC before March 31 and basing its commitments on existing policies, the US has shown how serious it’s taking the process, encouraging others to follow suit. It also puts pressure on large emerging economies such as China and India to present their own plans with targets that represent the best of their respective capabilities.
What Can You Do to Help?
With the right pressure at home, negotiators can always raise their commitments to action before an INDC becomes a final NDC. For those of us in the US, it’s time to spread the word about what’s happening in Paris and build support for the steps the US has already committed to — and support for going even further so we can all share a healthy and prosperous future.
So how can you get involved? Simple: by becoming a Climate Reality Leader.
If you’ve ever wanted to help stop climate change, this is the time. For years, we’ve been working to make progress on policies that can end the climate crisis. Now it’s time to make history with a global agreement to cut emissions. Together, we can take a giant step toward the future we want. Join us.
Photo © 2005 UN Photos/Flickr cc by CC BY-NC-ND 2.0