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Clean Power Plan of the US
Aug 17, 2015

The US President Barack Obama recently unveiled Clean Power Plan to cut, by 2030, Greenhouse gas emissions from US power plants by 32% from 2005 levels. The announcement is the most specific the US has ever made on its emission reduction roadmap. 

  • The Clean Power Plan is not a new or additional emission reduction target that the US has committed itself to. 

  • It is merely one of the ways that will help it fulfill an existing pledge to reduce overall Greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% by 2025 from 2005 levels. The US track record on climate action has hardly inspired confidence.

  • In the early 2000s, when it was the world’s largest emitter, it shied away from ratifying the Kyoto Protocol under which it had been assigned an emission cut target of 7% from 1990 levels, to be achieved by 2012. 

  • It was only in 2009, before the Copenhagen Conference, that the US took an emission reduction target–17% of 2005 levels by 2020. 

  • On 1990 levels, that translated to a mere 4% cut. It is struggling to achieve even that: at the end of 2013, US emissions were barely 8.5% below 2005 levels.

  • Now, ahead of the Paris Conference, when every country has to reveal its climate action plan for beyond 2020, the US has said it will cut emissions by 26-28% by 2025 compared to 2005 levels. 

  • Studies have shown that is largely a business-as-usual scenario from the 17% target for 2020, and therefore, hardly ambitious.

The Plan and Opposition: The Plan seeks to define an upper limit on carbon emissions from individual fossil fuel fired power plants, who have until 2030 to go under the limit. The US has about 1,000 coal-or gas-based plants, each with several units, and the Plan will apply to 3,100 of the most polluting units. The plants can do emission trading—that is, a polluting unit can buy carbon space from one that is within the limit. And a strong thrust will be given to ensure that the US produces 30% more energy from renewable sources by 2030.

  • The Plan will ensure that 870 million tonnes of carbon emissions are avoided by 2030. But the Plan has met with strong opposition from several quarters, including US states that rely mainly on coal-fired power plants. 

  • 870 million tonnes over 15 years might seem trivial when the US is emitting close to 7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent every year. 

  • Annual emissions dipped a little from 2008 due to the financial crisis, but have been rising since 2012.

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