US needs additional climate policies for 2C pledge

10 April 2015 4 min. read

In a bid to inhibit the effects of climate change on human civilisation, governments globally have agreed on a 2 C warming limit. Different countries however have different policies in place to reach this goal. An analysis from a consortium of sustainability experts reveals that the latest efforts from the US government to curb its greenhouse gas footprint will not be sufficient to reach its 2025 pledge.

That global warming is the result of human activity is supported by the majority of recent scientific findings. Governments, in response to assessments of the wide and deep impact that high levels of climate change are projected to have on the current form of human civilisation – have been spurred into an almost universally accepted global accord to hold warming at a 2 C level. A level seen by many as the upper bound of inhibiting the more severe negative climate effects on the world’s people and biodiversity.


To monitor the progress of government climate action against the globally agreed 2 C of warming, four organisations – Climate Analytics, Ecofys, NewClimate Institute and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research – joined forces in 2009 and developed the ‘Climate Action Tracker’. The tool is an ‘independent science-based assessment’ that maps out the emission commitments and actions of various countries. The web-based platform provides transparency on the individual commitments of countries toward reducing their carbon footprints that are up-to-date, as well as recording their historic pledges and actions.

In a recent analysis however, the current trend following from human activity and government policy, as well as governmental pledges, are considered against the projected effects on climate warming. The findings are concerning. If the current policies and human activities are continued without change, the world is projected to see temperatures increase on average by between 3.6 and 4.2 C, well above the 2 C upper limit. More concerning however is that even with the current pledges and commitments made by various world governments in their possible policy implementations – to curb human activity seen as dangerous to our long term way of life – temperatures are still expected to see a rise of between 2.9 C and 3.1 C.

Effect of current pledges and policies on global temperature

While things look dire, Professor Kornelis Blok, Director of Science at Ecofys says: “There is considerable diversity between countries both in terms of the ambition level of their reduction pledges and the actual translation of these pledges into policy action on the ground. If all countries followed the leading country on both tasks, the goal of limiting warming to below 2ËšC could be within reach.”

The US doing their bit
As part of their analysis the research consortium has developed a scale between ‘role model’, ‘sufficient’, ‘medium’ and ‘inadequate’, based on an assessment of various current policy and pledge environments against the model's rating. With ‘medium’ denoting the ‘least stringent’ part of the 2 C range and ‘inadequate’ anything above. While the US was rated ‘inadequate’ in terms of their policy pledges in the year 2014, 2013 and 2011, their 2015 result has, for the first time, shown a curb in greenhouse gases (GHG) output that places its long term emissions at the top of the medium range.

Climate-Action-Tracker - Graph

The US’s latest plan, agreed on 31 March 2015, titled ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC)’, sets an ambitious target to reduce net GHG emissions by 26 – 28% below 2005 in 2025 (equivalent to 14 – 17% below 1990 levels). The US has also pledged to set the trajectory toward its 2025 goals to involve a reduced net GHG emissions of by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 (equivalent to about 4% below 1990 levels). The research partners’ analysis of current US policy initiatives and projects finds however, that while the 2020 target is achievable with the ‘The President’s Climate Action Plan’ set it 2013, the 2025 target will require additional policies be implemented – cutting deeper than the 2020 pledge – to reach the 2025 pledge. With the long term projection to 2050 requiring considerable cuts to stay within the medium range – a drop of emissions from ~6500 MtCO2e to ~2500 MtCO2e. With the long term medium range still denoting that not enough is being done for the world to safely stay within the agreed sufficient 2 C bound.

Climate Action Tracker

The researchers note that: “The ‘Medium’ rating indicates that the US climate plans are at the least ambitious end of what would be a fair contribution. This means it is not consistent with limiting warming to below 2°C unless other countries make much deeper reductions and comparably greater effort. The reduction target could therefore be strengthened to reflect the United States’ high capability and responsibility.”