America Made Strong Gains With Clean Energy, Efficiency, and Carbon Cuts but Faces Climate "Crossroads"

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States is light years ahead of 10-year government projections for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and carbon pollution cuts but must greatly accelerate clean energy progress to help avert climate disaster, according to a major new report today from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Less than three weeks after the urgent warning from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the world may have as few as 12 years to stave off the worst of climate change, America’s Climate Crossroads: Pushing Clean Energy Higher & Faster notes the nation made huge clean energy strides in the past year and a half and far outpaced the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) 2007 predictions for 2017 energy use. However, the country is not yet on track to meet the IPCC’s climate targets.

“We must significantly accelerate America's progress toward a clean energy future, perhaps to a velocity not previously recognized. The good news is that we already have the tools and technology to get there,” said Amanda Levin, lead author and NRDC policy analyst. “A decade ago the government couldn’t even imagine how much efficiency and renewable resources like wind and solar would change America’s energy landscape. Who knows how much further and faster we can go?”

The report shows that total 2017 coal use was 40 percent less than the DOE projected a decade earlier, representing the lowest level since 1978, and oil imports were more than a quarter below forecasts. Total U.S. carbon pollution was 23 percent lower than projected for last year and also 15 percent lower than in 2007. Meanwhile, wind and solar capacity were 600 percent higher. Thanks in large part to energy efficiency, the United States consumed 3 percent less energy in 2017 to support an economy 16 percent larger (in real terms) than it was ten years earlier. Total U.S. energy consumption last year was even below the amount used when the decade-old DOE projections were made.

“Thanks to plunging costs and new technologies, U.S. individuals, corporations, utilities and states are investing in cleaner options. As a result, we came close to reaching the Clean Power Plan’s emissions reduction targets for power plants 13 years earlier than anticipated,” noted Ralph Cavanagh, NRDC senior attorney, co-director of energy, and founding report author. “We’re at a pivotal energy crossroads: Do we push forward harder and faster – which will benefit our health, wallets, the economy, and our climate – or try to revert to the risky fossil fuels energy system of the past?”

The report notes that the Trump administration’s anti-environment, pro-fossil fuels agenda has included new roadblocks to clean energy progress and rolling back environmental protections like the Clean Power Plan and vehicle fuel economy standards.

Daniel M. Kammen, coordinating lead author on various IPCC reports, and Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy, University of California, Berkeley, and former science envoy to the U.S. State Department, said: “The IPCC report is not a call to despair; it’s a reminder of both the urgency and feasibility of constructive action to avoid catastrophic global climate disruption. The NRDC report is a compelling assessment of all the United States has already done and can yet do to meet that challenge.”

The report’s key data indicators include:

  • The United States could meet both its 2025 and 2050 climate commitments, at minimal cost, mainly through investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and electrified appliances and vehicles.
  • U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions fell again in 2017, marking the third consecutive year to see total reduction in climate-warming pollution and the lowest level since 1992.
  • Under the Trump proposals to roll back the federal plan to cut powerplant emissions and also vehicle fuel efficiency standards, the United States would emit 857 million tons of carbon dioxide per year above our nation’s Paris Accord target in 2025 and about 1.8 billion tons above levels implied by a 1.5-degree climate-warming scenario.
  • The transportation sector has solidified its position as the largest source of U.S. carbon pollution, with emissions increasing by 14 million tons last year, equivalent to the climate pollution from 2.7 million cars a year. It was the only sector experiencing a carbon pollution increase in 2016 or 2017.  
  • Consumer investments in efficiency – from LED lights to efficient appliances to industrial measures – that are helping households and businesses reduce energy waste saved enough electricity in 2017 to power almost the entire state of California for a year.
  • More electric cars were sold in 2017 than ever before: almost 200,000, a 25 percent increase over the record-breaking 2016 sales. In total, almost 750,000 EVs were zooming across the nation’s roads at the end of 2017.
  • U.S. businesses had already inked more renewable energy deals in the first half of 2018 than ever achieved over an entire year. More than 140 corporations have pledged to go 100 percent renewable energy, unlocking almost 200 terawatt hours of new demand for clean power by 2030 (equal to Pennsylvania’s annual power generation).

The report—which also reviews nuclear, natural gas, and other energy sources—-is available at Levin’s related blog can be found at:

Graphics from the report are available.

Follow Kammen at @dan_kammen and work by Cavanagh and Levin at @NRDCEnergy.

EDITOR’S NOTE: An audio recording of today's telephone-based press conference is here:


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.


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