Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

36 hours left in this Mid-Year Campaign. This is our hour of need.
If you value independent journalism, please support Common Dreams.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Protesters in the Philippines, marching in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, called for industrialized nations to acknowledge their 'historical responsibility for climate change and their obligations towards peoples of developing countries who suffer the brunt of the impacts of global warming.' (Photo: Ac Dimatatac/cc/flickr)

US Climate Plan 'Treats the Wound But Does Not Stop the Bleeding'

As the White House unveils blueprint for emission reductions ahead of UN climate talks, groups warn that unless US moves beyond fossil fuels it will not avert climate catastrophe

Lauren McCauley

With bold language and take-charge rhetoric, the White House on Tuesday unveiled its plan to cut U.S. carbon emissions by roughly one third over the next decade, a goal that environmentalists say is commendable but is not enough to keep global warming beneath the critical 2°C threshold. 

Submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ahead of a midnight deadline, the plan joins other national commitments that will serve as the building blocks for an international climate treaty to be decided during the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) scheduled for December in Paris.

"We welcome the U.S. submission as a first step, but it would not do enough to avert global catastrophe," Greenpeace legislative representative Kyle Ash said in a press statement. "[The plan] begins to treat the wound, but does not stop the bleeding."

President Obama's blueprint, known as the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), lays out several existing policies, such as fuel economy standards and household energy efficiency measures, as well as ongoing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The plan champions pending rules to limit methane emissions from the oil and gas industry as well as the EPA's Clean Power Plan to curb carbon pollution from existing power plants.

Following these measures, the White House says, "we can take on climate change, grow the economy, and create more jobs and opportunity for the American people at the same time."

"Climate change is real, it is being driven by human activity, and it is not a problem any one country can solve on its own," that statement continues.

However, responding to the plan, critics argue that as the world's second largest polluter, the measures simply do not go far enough to tackle the extent of the crisis.

Jamie Henn, strategy and communications director for 350.org, said that the only way the U.S. can meet its carbon reduction goals is to "keep fossil fuels in the ground—starting with a rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline."

Pointing to the administration's recent actions to expand offshore oil exploration in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, Henn said, "President Obama can’t claim to be serious about reducing emissions if he’s also opening up major new fossil fuel development."

350.org, which has led the growing fossil fuel divestment movement, argues that there must be a literal shift from a fossil fuel-based economy to a more sustainable energy system. Such a plan should include "cutting fossil fuel subsidies, redirecting international finance away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy, and encouraging the business sector to take action."

Further, Janet Redman, climate policy program director at the Institute for Policy Studies, said the Obama administration must abandon its push for "dirty and dangerous technologies like natural gas, waste incineration, and nuclear energy."

Redman continued: "The U.S. can and must support the transition to clean renewable energy, zero waste, sustainable food systems, efficient public transportation and housing, and other local and state action to dramatically lower emissions while protecting public health and local economies at home."

In addition to the United States, 33 other parties have formally submitted their INDC's, including all the countries under the European Union plus the European Commission, Mexico, Norway and Switzerland.

The Guardian reports:

[T]he EU has agreed to cut its emissions by 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, while China has promised its emissions will peak by 2030.

Mexico, the first developing country to make a climate commitment, said it will cut emissions by at least 22% - and as much as 40% if certain conditions are met. Norway offered a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, from 1990 levels, and said it sought to be carbon neutral by 2050.

As the UNFCCC notes, the world's biggest polluters are expected to pledge more ambitious targets and do so as soon as possible. Meanwhile, most developing nations will likely agree to slow the growth of their emissions, rather than commit to absolute cuts.

During the 2014 COP20 climate talks in Lima, Peru, poorer nations—many of which stand on the front lines of rising oceans and intensifying weather patterns—repeatedly call on the world's biggest economies, and thus the biggest polluters, to commit to targets that reflect their outsized contribution to the climate crisis.

In her Tuesday statement, Redman noted that, "Conspicuously absent from the U.S. climate submission is any commitment of financing to support developing countries adapt to climate disruption and shift toward clean energy economies." Such financing, she adding, is not only "morally right," but it is our legal responsibility under the UN climate convention.

In a Twitter post on Monday, 350.org also addressed that debate:

A new poll released last week, conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group for the environmental organizations Sierra Club and Union of Concerned Scientists, found that 72 percent of likely 2016 voters support the United States signing on to an international climate agreement during the upcoming COP21 talks.

"There is clear momentum building for climate action," 350.org's Henn continued. "Divestment campaigns have helped strip away the social license of the fossil fuel industry, hundreds of thousands are marching in the streets, and clear climate impacts are putting deniers on the defensive."

"The train to a clean energy future has left the station, the question is whether a Paris agreement will speed up the journey."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Just ONE DAY left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Assange Makes Final Appeal Against US Extradition

"If Julian Assange is not free, neither are we," said a protester at a Friday demonstration against the WikiLeaks founder's impending transfer. "None of us is free."

Brett Wilkins ·


NARAL Pro-Choice Endorses Fetterman—Who Vows to End Senate Filibuster to Protect Abortion Rights

"We know we can count on him to boldly fight for abortion rights and access," said the head of one of the nation's largest reproductive rights advocacy groups.

Jon Queally ·


Texas Panel Denounced Over Attempt to Rebrand Slavery as 'Involuntary Relocation'

One progressive group called the proposal "a blatant attempt to whitewash history to fit a racist worldview."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Blatantly Partisan': NC Green Party Candidate Slams State Dems for Denying Ballot Petition

"It's a slap in the face to the thousands of people who signed," said Matthew Hoh, the Green Party's presumptive U.S. Senate nominee.

Jake Johnson ·


'We Will Fight! We Will Win!': Nearly 200 Abortion Rights Defenders Arrested in DC

"If people don't see the rage," said one woman at the protest, "nothing changes."

Jon Queally ·

Common Dreams Logo