President Donald Trump's efforts to dismantle climate policies enacted under former President Barack Obama have put the United States' targets to reduce CO2 emissions under the Paris climate accord permanently beyond reach, according to multiple recent analyses examined by InsideClimate News.
"We are now in truly uncharted territory."
World Climate Research Programme
InsideClimate News' Marianne Lavelle explains:
Under President Barack Obama, the United States pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. That means emissions must be cut about 1.7 billion metric tons, according to figures from the Environmental Protection Agency's latest greenhouse gas inventory. The nation is a third of the way to that target, but the rest was to be achieved via an array of regulations, especially the Clean Power Plan, that are now targeted for elimination by President Donald Trump. Not only was the goal dependent on those rules, it would have also required even more rigorous policies from Obama's successor because reductions from those rules would not have been enough, numerous studies have found.
David Bookbinder, a longtime environmental lawyer and a fellow at the libertarian think tank the Niskanen Center, released a new analysis that puts the shortfall at 1 billion metric tons if Trump succeeds in undoing most of the Obama-era climate rules. Meaning, emissions from the world's second-largest carbon polluter would be virtually unchanged from today. That would jeopardize any chance the world has to set a course of deep and rapid decarbonization over the next critical few years.
According to InsideClimate News' own analysis, even if all Obama-era regulations had been kept in place, the U.S. would have still been required to take further action in order to meet its Paris climate targets. In light of Trump's efforts to repeal those regulations and slash funding to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the likelihood of the U.S. meeting those targets has shrunk to nil.
"There were people at the [EPA] hard at work on 2.0 [of climate policy], and they were going to ratchet it up, and it was going to be justified by Paris. It all would have worked, except for that whole election thing," an environmental lawyer told InsideClimate News. "Now, it's all over...We're at square zero."
And the United States is reneging on the international climate agreement just when the need for climate action becomes more apparent than ever.
Extreme weather and unusually scorching temperatures have continued into 2017—despite the absence of an El Niño effect, which warmed oceans in 2016, according to the World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) annual report (pdf) published Tuesday.
The WMO report echoes the latest National Oceans and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) numbers. "In the past, Earth doesn't come near record heat if there's no El Niño. This year it did—on every continent," noted the Associated Press.
"Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory," said World Climate Research Programme director David Carlson in a statement.
"This report confirms that the year 2016 was the warmest on record," explained WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas, "a remarkable 1.1°C above the pre-industrial period, which is 0.06°C above the previous record set in 2015. This increase in global temperature is consistent with other changes occurring in the climate system."
"Globally averaged sea surface temperatures were also the warmest on record, global sea levels continued to rise, and Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average for most of the year," Taalas added. "With levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere consistently breaking new records, the influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident."
Indeed, despite the Trump administration's insistence on denying climate change, many parts of the U.S. are already suffering the effects of out-of-control global warming. In western states, for example, wildfires have already consumed nearly 2 million acres so far this year—which is about ten times the average for this early in the season.
"June is a more typical fire season, hotter and drier," a police officer in Boulder, Colo., told USA Today. "But around here it seems that fire season goes all year long."