Analysis: Liberal states off course for emission targets

Source: By Benjamin Storrow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Liberal states aren’t on track to meet the emission reductions targeted by the Paris climate accord, and they’re nowhere close to reducing emissions at the rates needed to limit the rise of global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

So the Environmental Defense Fund says in a report released today that examines 25 states participating in the U.S. Climate Alliance, along with Puerto Rico and Louisiana, which has set emission targets consistent with the Paris climate accord.

The study follows several years of sustained climate action at the state level. Liberal states took up the mantle of emissions reduction in the face of environmental rollbacks under the Trump administration.

But the report concludes those states are on track to cut emissions 18% of 2005 levels by 2025, short of the 26% reduction called for in the Paris Agreement.

The 1.5 C gap is even more daunting. In that instance, emissions would need to fall 45% of 2010 levels by the end of the decade. Liberal states are currently on track for a 11% reduction by 2030, the report finds.

“To date we haven’t had a climate policy agenda in the U.S. that is focused on emission outcomes,” said Pam Kiely, who leads state policy at EDF. “That is not the metric people have been judging success by and what leaders are held accountable to.”

But although many states have committed to steep emission reductions, few have put in the policy framework needed to actually cut carbon dioxide, the report concludes. It highlights Colorado, New York, New Jersey, Maine and Washington as states that have enshrined emission reductions in law but not spelled out how they intend to make those cuts.

Those states have all outlined plans to green their electricity supply. New York, Maine and Washington have committed to zeroing out emissions from their power plants by midcentury. Colorado has a similar goal for large utilities. New Jersey is targeting 50% renewables by 2030.

However, transportation is the leading source of emissions in four of those states, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. Colorado, with its coal-centric power grid, is the exception.

States need a more comprehensive approach to climate policy, Kiely said. The report argues states should adopt legally enforceable carbon targets and performance standards for cars and buildings, among other economic sectors. It also recommends states consider a carbon price.

“We need to be upping the game from surgical interventions to also include comprehensive regulations, a suite of regulations that are capable of managing a decline of pollutants over time consistent with these targets,” Kiely said.

Most liberal states face a gap between their climate goals and their projected emission trajectories, the report finds. It outlines high- and low-emissions scenarios that are based on states’ recovery from the coronavirus.

Washington, for instance, faces a Paris emissions gap in 2025 ranging from 5.7 million metric tons to 16.9 million metric tons. Colorado’s 2025 gap ranges from 13.5 million tons to almost 25 million tons. California’s gap is 11 million tons to 61 million tons.

A few regions of the country are on track to meet the Paris goals. New England and South Atlantic states (Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia) are collectively on track to see emissions fall by at least 26% by 2025. But no region is currently cutting emissions enough to meet the 45% reduction envisioned in 2030.

Maine and Montana are the only states analyzed currently on track to meet the 2030 threshold in both high- and low-emissions scenarios.