The US has fallen way behind on climate goals

The US is doing a pretty awful job of delivering on the promises it’s made to tackle climate change, according to two separate new studies. A global ranking of countries, supplemented by Yale and Columbia, shows that the US now ranks 43rd out of 180 countries evaluated by Columbia and Yale in their most recent Environmental Performance Index (EPI). That’s a sharp drop since the researchers last ranked countries in 2020, when the US was in 24th place.

When it comes to climate indicators alone (the review also takes into account countries’ progress on other types of pollution and efforts to protect ecosystems), the US dropped all the way to 101 from its previous spot of 15th. The US ranking was reported by The New York Times today ahead of the full EPI to be released tomorrow.

And despite President Joe Biden’s pledges to eliminate enough pollution this decade to prevent the world from falling into a much deeper climate crisis, a recent article published in the journal Science notes that the US is a long way from meeting its targets to reduce CO2 emissions. It will take a massive effort to transform the country’s power and transportation systems to get the US on track.

The latest EPI reflects the turnaround in climate policy under Donald Trump between 2017 and 2019, The New York Times reports. Trump has rolled back dozens of environmental regulations while in office and withdrew the US from the landmark Paris climate accord. The Paris agreement commits almost all countries of the world to emission reductions aimed at keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (measured as an increase from the pre-industrial era). Research shows that a 2 degree Celsius rise would cause devastating losses to ecosystems and the people who depend on them.

Biden rejoined the US to the Paris Agreement almost immediately after taking office. But since then, his efforts to pass legislation to move the US more quickly towards clean energy have failed hindered in Congress. Last year, Biden pledged to cut US carbon dioxide emissions by at least 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. This is in line with what is needed worldwide to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

But it doesn’t match what’s actually happening on the ground. According to an analysis published last week in the journal, current policies are expected to reduce U.S. energy emissions by 6 to 28 percent by 2030. Science

The authors of the paper looked at six key energy and economy models to map out what the US needs to actually deliver on its pledge to cut emissions by half. The consensus of all six models was that in order to meet the stated emissions targets, the country’s network and transportation system would need to be overhauled. We need much more of our economy to run on electricity from clean energy sources such as wind and solar. Coal should also all but disappear from the national energy sector, the models agree. Wind and solar capacity should also grow two to seven times faster than in the past decade.

The Biden administration has been phasing out gas-guzzling cars, but not aggressively enough. Biden signed an executive order last year that aims to have half of all new cars be hybrid or electric vehicles by 2030. Nearly 70 percent of new cars sold must be electric by 2030, according to the new newspaper.

Greenhouse gas emissions in the United States have declined over time, thanks to the decline in renewable energy prices and a corresponding decline in per capita energy use. But according to the lead author of the Science article, the pace of greenhouse gas reduction in the US must be three times faster to achieve Biden’s proposed 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions. And given that the US is currently the world’s second-largest climate polluter after China, the action they take next is vital for the entire planet.


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