Voluntary emissions reduction: How the US can stay in Paris Agreement

Democratic party efforts to launch a legislative package that would force President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE to submit a plan to Congress to remain in the Paris climate accords is a policy that can gain bipartisan momentum. The launch of a Republican response to the Green New Deal lays the groundwork, if a creative approach could be fashioned.

Trump’s declaration of withdrawal notwithstanding, the terms of the agreement mean the United States cannot formally extricate itself until 2020. The U.S. climate negotiators have continued efforts to maintain the ability to stay in the accord and participated actively at the last global climate meeting where countries agreed upon uniform rules for measuring and tracking their own performance in cutting emissions.

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At the next gathering in Chile, countries will discuss how to allow the international exchange of credits for emission reductions. Staying in the Paris accords is vital to the U.S. economy (to quote the GOP resolution) to ensure the U.S. can be “a global leader in clean energy and capture global markets as countries invest in low- and [zero-emissions] technologies.”

The U.S. economy is on track to generate roughly 65 percent of greenhouse gas emissions reductions required to meet the 2015 U.S. Paris pledge given some existing Bush and Obama era regulations as well as power sector trendlines. To achieve the remainder, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should issue a national call for states and localities to create volunteer emission-cutting programs. Such a national tender would create a coalition of the willing while honoring the president’s commitment not to burden localities that oppose participating.

Willing states and localities would volunteer projects to be combined and tracked into the official U.S. nationally determined contribution based on their verifiability, scale, and capacity to create jobs.

By enabling the United States to remain in the Paris Agreement, the national tender approach would minimize the chances that China or the European Union could use the U.S. absence to set energy standards and other carbon-related rules that could harm the U.S. economy. The Paris Agreement requires nationally verified processes, the proposed national voluntary tender system would accomplish that. It is also consistent with a Supreme Court ruling that authorizes EPA to regulate carbon pollution.

Aggressive climate policies such as renewable portfolio standards are now popular in many sections of the country, including right-leaning states that originally opposed the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). Many states are acting, alone or in regional coalitions to reduce emissions, including by carrying out their original Obama-era CPP programs.

The U.S. auto sector is already raising efficiency standards in line with regulations passed prior to Trump’s election. Those two trendlines put the United States on track to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions by about 1,100 MMT of CDE by 2025, most of the way to the 1,737 million metric tons (MMT) of carbon dioxide equivalent reductions that constitute the U.S. pledged level.

Additional urban policies such as car-free pedestrian regions, expanded public transit, and energy-efficiency programs for buildings, trucking and businesses, combined with new state rules on oil and gas methane leakage, renewable energy and reforestation, could be substantive enough to achieve the additional 637 MMT in reductions needed to achieve the U.S. pledge.

California, which has already cut carbon emissions by over 60 MMT since 2005 even as the state’s economy grew 41 percent, is accelerating its push for renewable energy, which is expected to reach 50 percent by 2020, 10 years ahead of schedule. New York City is working on a plan to reduce emissions by 10 MMT by 2030, including a 20 percent drop in energy use for buildings and increased use of battery storage.

In U.S. midterm elections, several newly elected governors — in Colorado, Connecticut, Nevada, Maine, Oregon, and Wisconsin — pledged to pursue 100 percent renewable energy state mandates, mirroring policies recently passed in California and Hawaii. Other states that opposed the CPP — like Georgia, and Michigan — are now embracing renewable energy, given its popularity among corporations and cities: New Jersey originally joined the group of states suing the EPA to stop carbon regulations in 2015, but it has now rejoined the U.S. East Coast carbon market.

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A new scientific paper also postulates more than a fifth of annual U.S. carbon emissions could be offset via comprehensive natural solutions such as reforestation and restoration of grasslands, wetlands and seagrass. The paper suggest other methods, such as use of biochar, improved management of plantations, cover crops and manure management. Policies like these being considered around the country could gain momentum from the political signal of a national tender.

Remaining in the agreement through a national tender would be a win-win scenario: It would allow unified verification for those states and municipalities that adopt climate-friendly policies. Those that do not choose to act on climate change would still gain all the trade and economic benefits of staying within the Paris accord, for the good of the United States as a whole.

Amy Myers Jaffe is the David M. Rubenstein senior fellow for Energy and the Environment at the Council on Foreign Relations and director of the Council’s program on energy security and climate change.

Daniel Scheitrum is an assistant professor in Agriculture and Resources Economics at the University of Arizona.