John Upton quotes me in a story on the gap between the United States' climate policy and its Paris pledge:
“Federal climate policy is falling short of the United States' pledge in Paris — and not by a small amount,” said Danny Cullenward, a Carnegie Institution for Science researcher who helped the national lab scientists develop their study.
“I don't envy those planning climate policy,” Cullenward said. “They’re caught between fierce opposition to the Clean Power Plan and the knowledge that federal climate efforts need redoubling if the U.S. is to fulfill its Paris promise.”
Given the political sensitivity of the issue, I wanted to share the rest of my statement here. Just to be clear, this is not to object to anything in the article—which accurately quotes me and does a great job of reviewing the critical issues—but instead to document the complete thought process behind my remarks:
The cooperation between the US and China is the lynchpin of the Paris Agreement. When Presidents Obama and Xi announced a set of mutually acceptable climate targets in 2014, they breathed new life into global climate negotiations after twenty years of struggle. The Obama Administration deserves great credit for its role in this transformation and the success of the Paris Agreement last December.
But President Obama's climate legacy is much more complex. It is now widely understood that federal climate policy is falling short of the United States' pledge in Paris—and not by a small amount, such that a series of patchwork regulations might close the gap, but by one (or more) times the expected impacts from the Administration's primary climate policy, the Clean Power Plan.
By the time the Environmental Protection Agency finalized the Clean Power Plan last summer, it was clear that the Plan's relatively modest targets in the electricity sector—where emission reductions are cheapest and most plentiful—may have frustrated the United States' ability to meet its Paris target. Staying the course on federal climate policy practically guarantees that outcome.
As a result, I don't envy those planning climate policy for the next administration. They are caught between fierce opposition to the Clean Power Plan and the knowledge that federal climate efforts need re-doubling if the United States is to fulfill its Paris promise. I hope they will have the courage to proceed with the transparency and urgency the situation demands.
Finally, this episode highlights the need for rigorous independent review processes in the post-Paris negotiations. Although the Paris Agreement established a framework that shows promise for deepening commitments over time, countries could not agree on standards for data transparency nor a mechanism for independently reviewing one another's pledges. Instead, the parties decided to revisit these issues at the COP-24 meeting in 2018. Without a robust system for tracking implementation of national pledges, however, I worry the Paris Agreement will not have the transformational effect that is so desperately needed.
In the weeks and months to come, I hope to share more about my experience as a research scientist working on US-China cooperation during the Paris negotiations. It's great to see that government researchers and NGO scientists are now willing to discuss the gap between the United States' public targets and actual policy implementation—but it wasn't that long ago that the topic was taboo.