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:
The US announces climate goals for Paris talks: http://t.co/HEnmA67crJ Better than before, not enough to meet demands of science + justice.— 350 dot org (@350) March 31, 2015
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."