The Paris Climate Talks and the INDC Gap

The Paris climate talks are now complete, with almost 200 nations agreeing to a framework for greenhouse gas reduction that attempts to keep any warming “well below 2 °C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C.” The agreement is the crowning achievement of Obama’s environmental legacy and seeks to make the United States a leader in both reducing greenhouse gases at home and providing monetary assistance to developing countries to facilitate reductions across the globe. While the negotiators have gone home, the tough task of implementation raises serious concerns about the viability of the agreement. In fact, meeting the ambitious goals set out in Paris may prove to be too expensive and too problematic.

For starters, while the president was touting the climate talks, both the House and Senate passed resolutions of disapproval for the capstone of Obama’s climate change policies, the Clean Power Plan regulations. The sweeping new regulations call for power plants to generate 32 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions in 2030 than produced in 2005. While the congressional disapprovals won’t survive the president’s veto pen, significant legal challenges already have been launched against the regulations.

The Clean Power Plan rules are ambitious and costly. The EPA estimates an annual price tag of $8.4 billion in 2030 but others put the price at $29 billion to $39 billion per year. These are the most expensive rules released by the administration in its attempts to meet the country’s “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” (INDC) for the global treaty to reduce greenhouse gases. The INDCs represent each nation’s assessment of how much they will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In March of this year, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the U.S. INDC calls for a reduction of 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025.

The administration is counting on the new Clean Power regulations to cut emissions by 870 MMT (million metric tons). But even this costly regulation, with massive repercussions for the economy, American businesses, and consumers, falls well short of the targets outlined in the INDC. A recent report suggests that the U.S. can only reduce its carbon footprint by 9 percent to 19 percent—well below the president’s ambitious goal of 28 percent. And this assumes that the Clean Power Plan is fully implemented on schedule, something highly unlikely given that the rules are facing legal challenges by more than 20 states.