The U.S. is on track to miss its 2025 emissions reduction pledge agreed to in the Paris climate accord last year—because it doesn't have the proper policies in place to meet the target, according to new research.
In fact, the country is so far behind in emissions slashing that even if it implemented a slew of new clean energy programs now, it could still miss its 2025 target by nearly 1 billion tons, the study published in the journal Nature has found. In the Paris accord, the U.S. pledged to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels.
According to authors Jeffery Greenblatt and Max Wei of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the evidence shows it is necessary for the U.S. to make "fundamental changes" to its energy and economic sectors.
"If the policies were locked today, there would be a low likelihood of meeting the target," Greenblatt told the Guardian. "I wouldn't disparage the U.S.'s efforts so far, but we need to do more as a nation and globally to reduce emissions. However we splice it, that's hard to do. We can't make small alterations to our economy—we need fundamental changes in how we get and use energy."
The study comes as President Barack Obama's landmark climate change policy heads to court for a critical decision on whether or not it should be overturned. Measuring previous government projections against updated climate data, Greenblatt's study finds that even if the Clean Power Plan—which would place emissions caps on every state—is kept and implemented, the U.S. could still miss its target by anywhere from 356 million to 1.8 billion tons of greenhouse gases.
Scientists at a University of Oxford conference last week similarly warned that greenhouse gas emissions are not being reduced quickly enough to prevent the Earth from reaching the agreed-upon 1.5°C global warming threshold in a decade. Meanwhile, a report by the environmental group Oil Change International also released last week found that the world has 17 years to get off fossil fuels entirely to prevent reaching the even more lenient 2°C warming threshold.
The country still has time to close the gap, but it will take more than just the existing or proposed measures, Greenblatt said. And it means we must act even faster and bolder than before.
"We won't get there with existing policies but it doesn't mean we are doomed," he said. "This is a call to action to ensure we close the remaining gap."
And, he added to The Verge, "If the United States is successful it's very likely that a number of other countries will follow suit and re-strengthen their own commitments. It's a kind of a self-reinforcing process when large nations are able to take a bold stand and follow through."
Environmental lawyer David Bookbinder, who was not involved in the study, similarly told The Verge that evading that dire temperature milestone will require large-scale system change.
"The problem is we built our economy on fossil fuels, there's no way around it," he said. "What we need to do is simply change how our economy works. And that's not something that's easy to do in any shape and form."
Especially considering that the government is unlikely to support such a shift, Bookbinder continued. The Obama administration "made the U.S. commitment knowing full well that there's no way the United States is going to meet that commitment," he said.
But any action is preferable to the climate future the U.S. could face under a Donald Trump presidency, experts warned. Maria Belenky, a senior associate at the policy firm Climate Advisers, told The Verge that "The key here is political will from the next administration and that's gonna be extremely integral to whether or not we're able to meet our targets."
And John Sterman, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan Sustainability Initiative, added to the Guardian, "The problem is a political problem and an implementation problem. The U.S., and the world, needs deeper and sooner cuts."