Reducing Carbon Pollution

The US Climate Action Plan, which was released by the Obama Administration in 2013, outlines strategies for reductions of carbon pollution across emission sectors in the nation. As a result of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and the goals laid out by the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), the US has committed to a 26-28% reduction of greenhouse gases below 2005 levels (an increase from the previous goal of a 17% reduction below 2005 levels by 2020). These steps are significant, but more effort is needed if average global temperatures are to be prevented from rising by 1.5°C, the aspiration agreed upon by the US and 194 other nations in Paris. To meet this goal, carbon pollution across all sectors of the economy must be reduced by 90% (below 1990 levels) by 2050. If average temperatures do increase past 1.5°C, 20-30% of plan and animal species may be at risk of extinction (IPCC 2007).

Butterfly photo by Lauren Anderson

The National Wildlife Federation focuses on three key areas to reduce US carbon pollution and ensure a stable climate for wildlife and future generations.

Carbon dioxide is the most prevalent greenhouse gas in the US. Energy-related CO2 emissions account for 81% of the US greenhouse gas emissions (EPA 2014), and emissions from the power sector (electricity generation) account for about 37% of those emissions. As part of the Climate Action Plan, the Obama Administration proposed the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to cut emissions from both new and existing power plants. This regulation is critical if the US is to reach its 2015 goal of 26-28% emission reductions. However, in February 2016 the US Supreme Court stayed the Clean Power Plan, putting a hold on carbon pollution regulation from existing power plants across the US.

Methane emissions account for 11% of US greenhouse gas emissions (EPA 2014), and are about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. Of these emissions, 33% come from methane waste from oil and gas development infrastructure (EPA 2014). With the use of new technology, the oil and gas industry has expanded rapidly across the US. However, regulations have not kept pace with this development so methane waste and pollution have become significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed regulations on new and modified sources of methane pollution from oil and gas production and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has proposed regulations on new and existing sources of methane waste of oil and gas production on federal and tribal lands. These are important steps to curbing methane emissions, but further steps are needed. The EPA must quickly move forward with regulations for existing sources of methane pollution from oil and gas production, as well.

Even with the current and proposed policies taken into account, additional emission cuts need to be made if we are to prevent average global temperatures from rising above 1.5°C, or even 2°C. Carbon pricing can come in two main forms: a cap-and-trade program, and a carbon tax. Both of these policies achieve a similar result because they both shift the costs of carbon pollution from society as a whole to those responsible for the pollution. An economy-wide carbon pricing program would create incentives for polluters to invest in carbon pollution reduction technology and give the renewable energy industry a competitive edge over energy generation options that have high pollution costs.

Caribou photo by Mary Watson 

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