Jul 16, 2021 - Energy & Environment

The big gap between U.S. emissions and climate targets

U.S. emissions: Current policy path vs. climate targets
Data: Rhodium Group; Chart: Axios Visuals

The corporate world and governments are awash in ambitious climate pledges, but two new reports underscore how the on-the-ground policy reality has not yet begun to spur steep emissions cuts.

Driving the news, part 1: The Rhodium Group consultancy is out with new projections of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions cuts under current federal and state policies.

  • As you can see above, the country is nowhere near on track to meet the recent White House pledge of 50%-52% U.S. cuts by 2030, while the longstanding 2025 target of 26%-28% reductions is a nearer miss (but the uncertainty band is large).

Driving the news, part 2: New International Energy Agency analysis shows that fossil fuels will be used to meet almost half of this year's projected 5% rebound in global electricity demand.

  • They see CO2 emissions from electricity, the largest global emissions source, rising 3.5% this year and another 2.5% in 2022.
  • Coal-fired generation, especially fueled by China, is slated to rise by 5% this year. "It will grow by a further 3% in 2022 and could set an all-time high," IEA notes (emphasis added).

Why it matters: This isn't the hottest take, but the upshot is that it's important to watch the specifics and implementation efforts that flow from headline-grabbing long-term commitments.

  • For the U.S., the biggest question right now is the fate of huge new investments and incentives the White House wants to move through Congress, as well as executive steps.
  • Globally, keep watch on the fate of aggressive new proposals in Europe, as well as how China fills in the blanks on its pledges, among other efforts.

What they're saying: "To shift to a sustainable trajectory, we need to massively step up investment in clean energy technologies — especially renewables and energy efficiency," Keisuke Sadamori, IEA's director of energy markets and security, said in a statement alongside the power report.

What we're watching: One thing on our U.S. radar is Rhodium's follow-up analysis coming this fall.It will explore "emissions impacts of a suite of federal and subnational actions that can help close the gap between the current U.S. emissions trajectory and ambitious decarbonization goals."

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