US, Brazil pledge 20 percent renewable electricity by 2030

US, Brazil pledge 20 percent renewable electricity by 2030
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The United States and Brazil announced an agreement on Tuesday to get a fifth of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030 in an ambitious attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

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The agreement, which excludes hydropower from the goal, came from President Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff as the Brazilian leader visits Washington, D.C., to discuss various policy issues.

“This is a big deal,” Brian Deese, Obama’s top adviser for energy, told reporters Tuesday.

“We believe that this is an ambitious target, but it’s one that’s actually achievable in a way that will actually create new, low-cost opportunities for the American economy,” he said. “But to achieve it, we’re going to have to continue to hit our marks in implementing the regulations that we’ve identified to date and providing those long-term incentives.”

The United States will have to triple its capacity of wind, solar, geothermal and other non-hydropower electricity sources by 2030 in order to reach the goal, but the White House said it will require no new regulations or laws beyond what has been announced.

Instead, the Obama administration is betting that regulations like the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon limits for power plants, state renewable power mandates and other initiatives aimed at increasing the use of renewable power — along with private sector market forces — will be enough to reach the goal.

The United States now has about 100 gigawatts of renewable capacity, representing 7 percent of its power mix. Since the White House does not forecast a dramatic increase in power demand, it expects to need 300 gigawatts by the 2030 target.

In particular, Deese said the goal requires successfully finishing the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon limits for power plants, which the administration expects to significantly increase the demand for renewable electricity at the expense of sources like coal.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast in May that the carbon limits for power plants would cause little increase in renewable energy capacity by 2020, because that is the first year the regulation takes effect.

But by 2040, renewable capacity will increase by 283 gigawatts, well above the pledge announced Tuesday. And if stronger carbon limits are implemented than what the EPA proposed last year, it could spur as much as 362 new gigawatts.

Brazil will have to double its non-hydropower renewable capacity under the deal.

In a joint statement from both countries, Brazil also pledged to restore 12 million hectares of forest — about the size of Pennsylvania — and to crack down on illegal deforestation to take advantage of the carbon dioxide-trapping power of forests. Brazil is home to the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest rainforest. It has lost almost 20 percent of its forest cover since the 1960s, due largely to agriculture.

While the renewable energy and forest pledges do not represent Brazil’s complete pledge for the United Nations’ December climate conference in Paris, Rousseff formally declared her country’s commitment to submit a plan to the U.N. that represents the strongest possible efforts to fight climate change, according to the joint statement.

“The global scientific community has made clear that human activity is already changing the world’s climate system, causing serious impacts, putting ever larger numbers of people at risk, posing challenges to sustainable development, affecting particularly the poor and most vulnerable, and harming economies and societies around the world, including in the United States and Brazil,” the presidents said. 

— This report was updated at 11:30 a.m.