United States Records Carbon Reduction Target Under Copenhagen Accord

The first fruits of the Copenhagen Accord were realized over the last few days as the world’s largest carbon emitters – and some smaller countries too – recorded their emissions mitigation commitments and actions under the Copenhagen Accord.   In the agreement hammered out on December 18th, President Obama and other world leaders committed to submit their mitigation targets and plans to the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change by January 31st.  Over the course of the last week, the promised submissions from the big emitters have rolled in.  In addition some smaller nations, such as the Maldives, have added their own emissions reduction targets.  We’re keeping a running tab here.

The United States submitted its target commitment on January 28th.  The text is short and sweet:  The U.S. commits to make an economy-wide greenhouse gas emission reduction from 2005 levels “[i]n the range of 17%, in conformity with anticipated U.S. energy and climate legislation, recognizing that the final target will be reported to the Secretariat in light of enacted legislation.”  A footnote adds this:  “The pathway set forth in pending legislation would entail a 30% reduction in 2025 and a 42% reduction in 2030, in line with the goal to reduce emissions 83% by 2050.”

The U.S. commitment matches the carbon pollution reduction targets in the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which passed the House of Representatives in June 2009.  The task ahead is to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation in the Senate.  In his State of the Union address on January 27th, President Obama threw himself into breaking the climate deadlock in the Senate.  He saluted the House bill and stressed his “eager[ness] to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate.” To underline his offer, the president framed up a package melding incentives for nuclear power plant construction and offshore oil drilling with a declining cap on global warming pollution.  This, of course, is the package that has brought Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) into partnership with Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT).  They are reaching out to other Senators of both parties to assemble a bill that can reach across the aisle to break the Senate gridlock. 

As the Republican member of this trio, Senator Graham’s commitment to legislate is crucial, and he went out of his way last week to show his seriousness.  He told E&E News (subscription required, another link here),  “The idea of not pricing carbon, in my view, means you're not serious about energy independence. The odd thing is you'll never have energy independence until you clean up the air, and you'll never clean up the air until you price carbon."  Graham added:  “I am committed to finding a new way forward as I believe energy security is a short and long-term job creator for our country.  Clean air is a shared value by both parties and all Americans. I remain hopeful after discussing this matter with conservation groups, businesses, and Senate colleagues we can be successful this year.”

The commitments recorded under the Copenhagen Accord should help move the legislative effort forward.  Many Senators have made clear that they want to see action by all major emitters, especially China and India.  Now those countries are acting.  We asked for a global effort to reduce emissions, and now we’ve got it.  Indeed, as the New York Times reported yesterday, “China Is Leading the Race to Make Clean Energy.”   Now we have to play our role in curbing carbon pollution.  We also have to get busy or we’ll lose the clean energy markets of the future.  These are the reasons the Senate must act, now.