On March 31st the US made a big step towards achieving a global climate deal by submitting its intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) to the UN. The proposal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the US by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025. This reduction effort would put the US on track to potentially reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. The submitted INDC demonstrates the US’ commitment to the upcoming climate agreement which is expected to come about from the Conference of the Parties in Paris later this year, and comes on the heels of the EU’s INDC which ASP has discussed.
While this INDC proposal is a momentous, its actual value to a climate agreement may not be very significant. The US has already made this commitment through a bilateral agreement with China, so the US has not in fact offered anything new with its INDC. From an even more cynical position, the US has essentially guaranteed that it will not be able to use its INDC for leverage in the upcoming negotiations. While other countries will be able to threaten to withhold their commitments in what could be a standoff with each party threatening to back out unless the others up their commitments, the US has relieved itself of this ability. Threatening to withdraw our INDC is the same as threatening to back out of our bilateral climate agreement with China.
The US’ climate deal with China was meant to be a tradeoff of INDCs, and while the involvement of both the US and China have been the biggest barriers to a successful climate deal in the past (together they make up over 40% of global emissions), it also means that the US has essentially already spent all of its bargaining power in order to bring China to the table. Perhaps if the US’ bilateral commitment with China had been more modest, such as a 15% reduction, it could have used its INDC as a bargaining chip in Paris, but that avenue is closed off now.
There are other factors at play though, this commitment to China means that the US is committed to reducing emissions regardless of what happens with China. The INDC also helps to explain the US plan for reducing emissions, and that it is primarily going to rely on government regulation of energy efficiency. We also know that the US plans to achieve this target strictly through domestic efforts, and not through any international market mechanisms.
Overall the US’ INDC proposal tells us what its shooting for and how it plans to achieve it. It is an ambitious target, and whether or not the US can achieve it is going to depend heavily on the state of the economy over the coming years. While the INDC is not a game changer or surprising, it does keep the world on track to have a chance to reach a climate agreement in Paris.