WASHINGTON, April 1, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – US President Donald Trump has taken
an axe to the environmental regulations he inherited from his predecessor
Barack Obama, cutting dozens of rules ranging from fracking on public land to
protections for endangered species.
Yet supporters of the Paris climate change accord believe state-level
efforts could mean the US will meet greenhouse gas emissions targets
envisaged under the landmark agreement, despite being the only country to
announce its withdrawal.
Automobile fuel and emission standards are the latest regulations in the
administration’s crosshairs, according to a report by the New York Times.
The paper reported Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott
Pruitt, a climate change skeptic with ties to the fossil fuel industry, has
determined Obama-era controls placed too great a burden on manufacturers.
It comes on the heels of the EPA’s announcement last fall it was seeking to
repeal the Clean Power Plan, Obama’s signature environmental policy that
would have limited each state’s greenhouse-gas emissions.
Already tied up by legal challenges, the Trump administration has vowed to
bury it for good.
These and other regulations constituted the building blocks of Obama’s plan
to fulfill US commitments to the 2015 pact.
The targets, which were already modest compared to those of the European
Union, are clearly in danger.
But the United States’ federal system of government and polarized political
climate offer hope: states like California and New York are governed by
opposition Democrats horrified by their Republican president’s stance on
global climate change, and are taking steps to oppose it.
It was for these reasons that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was the
most recent figure to suggest “there are expectations” the US will meet its
erstwhile commitments, with or without Trump’s blessing.
– Hard to predict –
Twenty of the 50 states, some hundred cities and a thousand companies have
already set targets for reducing the greenhouse effect, according to
America’s Pledge, an initiative launched by former New York mayor Michael
Bloomberg and the California Governor Jerry Brown.
California on its own is responsible for about the same amount of
greenhouse gases as France, and is gunning for a 40 percent reduction in its
emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, targets as ambitious as the EU’s.
But the question remains: can action taken by certain jurisdictions and
firms be a complete substitute for federal legislation at the center?
“It’s not impossible, but it’s improbable that the US can meet its
objectives with no further federal action,” Marc Hafstead, an economist at
Resources for the Future, a non-profit research institute, told AFP.
According to America’s Pledge, those states and cities which back the Paris
agreement contribute only 35 percent of the country’s overall greenhouse gas
Texas, the country’s biggest polluter, is not a part of the movement.
The combined efforts of non-federal jurisdictions will reduce America’s
greenhouse gas footprint by only half of the original target, according to a
report last September by the Germany-based NewClimate Institute.
A more precise figure is set to be published by America’s Pledge in
September during a global summit on climate change in San Francisco.
For now, warned Michelle Manion, the lead senior economist at the World
Resources Institute leading analysis for this report: “if you just do a
straight line from the states and cities that have committed to it, it
doesn’t look like we’ll meet those numbers.”
“It’s heading in the right direction, I can’t tell you what the number is
going to be in 2025, nor can anybody else,” she continued, adding that future
technological innovations could prove to be game changers.
Ten years ago, no one foresaw the dramatic decline in natural gas prices,
she recalled. Or predicted that the cost of solar panels would fall by 70
percent over the course of seven years.
It remains imperative, she argued, for states to continue to work towards a
low-carbon economy, through measures like the installation of electric
charging stations for cars or more environmentally friendly building
Vehicle emissions standards, which Trump is seeking to change, are a good
example, she said.
If California and the ten states in the country’s northeast that account
for 40 percent of all domestic light duty vehicle sales continue to impose
tighter controls, it’s likely that automobile manufacturers will adhere to
the stricter standards rather than create a two-tier market.