Discussion Paper

US Status on Climate Change Mitigation

Oct 16, 2012 | Dallas Burtraw, Matthew Woerman


In 2009, President Obama pledged that, by 2020, the United States would achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of 17 percent from 2005 levels. With the failure of Congress to adopt comprehensive climate legislation in 2010, the feasibility of the pledge was put in doubt. However, we find the United States is near to reaching this goal; currently, the country is on course to achieve reductions of 16.3 percent from 2005 levels in 2020. Three factors contribute to this outcome: greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act, secular trends including changes in relative fuel prices and energy efficiency, and subnational efforts. Nonetheless, global emissions likely will be greater than if comprehensive climate legislation had passed because of the absence of offsets, and at this point the United States is expected to fail to meet its financing commitments under the Copenhagen Accord for 2020.