President Obama’s Climate Action Plan

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President Obama’s CAP Spotlights

This section provides details on a major action taken to further each of the three overarching goals of the CAP.

Goal 1—Cut Carbon Pollution in the United States: The Clean Power Plan

Power generation produces nearly 40 percent of all GHG emissions in the United States. Reducing power sector emissions is, therefore, a key strategy outlined in the CAP. On June 2, 2014, the EPA announced a proposed rule, the Clean Power Plan (CPP), to reduce power sector carbon emissions. Authorized under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, the CPP mandates specific power sector emission reductions in each state, while giving states autonomy over how to achieve those reductions. The Administration released the final rule on August 3, 2015, calling for a 32 percent cut from 2005 levels by 2030, a small increase over the target in the proposed rule.

The Clean Power Plan provides each state with individualized emission reduction targets, specific to its needs and circumstances. Each state’s target was derived by assessing its capacity to make use of the three “buildings blocks” EPA has identified as pathways to emission reductions: making fossil fuel power plants more efficient, using more low-emitting power sources, and using more zero-emitting power sources. States can decide which strategies to incorporate into their implementation plans, which must be submitted to the EPA by September 2018.

The Clean Power Plan is controversial. Opponents claim it will reduce grid reliability, raise electricity costs, and negatively impact low income and elderly citizens. Supporters argue that it will greatly reduce domestic carbon emissions, improve public health conditions, and benefit the economy by expanding the growing industries of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Goal 2—Prepare the U.S. for Climate Change Impacts: The President’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience

Adaptation strategies in the Climate Action Plan emphasize the importance of enabling and empowering local leaders to improve the climate resilience of their communities. To further this goal, President Obama signed an executive order on November 1, 2013, establishing the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. The Task Force was directed to provide recommendations on how the federal government could most effectively assist communities in developing climate resilience.

The Task Force, which consisted of 26 U.S. governors, mayors, county officials and tribal leaders, spent a year researching and consulting with a diverse group of stakeholders. Their work culminated on November 17, 2014, with the release of a 45-page document outlining 35 key recommendations. Overall, the Task Force’s recommendations emphasized the need for federal agencies to consider climate-related risks in all their decision-making processes, to maximize opportunities for actions that both reduce emissions and increase resilience, to increase coordination across federal agencies, to provide actionable data on climate impacts so as to inform local decision making, and to consult and cooperate with indigenous communities on all resilience efforts.

The Obama administration has been quick to take action on the Task Force’s recommendations, even before they were finalized. On July 16, 2014, President Obama announced a $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition, $10 million in funding for tribal communities to improve climate resilience, and $236.3 million in grants to improve rural electric infrastructure. On November 17, 2014, the day the final recommendations were published, the White House released the Climate Resilience Toolkit, a comprehensive guide to assist local communities in improving climate resilience. On July 9, 2015, theAdministration released a report highlighting the progress made on the Task Force’s recommendations and announced new climate resilience efforts. The new efforts included additional funding for tribal communities and the National Disaster Resilience Competition, $10 million for climate resilience in low-income communities, and a new AmeriCorps program dedicated to assisting communities improve their capacity to address climate change.

Goal 3—Lead International Efforts to Address Global Climate Change: Bilateral Climate Agreements.

One point that is continually emphasized in the U.S. climate debate is that domestic mitigation efforts will be ineffective if the emissions of developing countries continue to rise unabated. For that reason, the Climate Action Plan stressed the importance of international bilateral agreements on climate. In the two years since the Climate Action Plan was announced, President Obama has reached historic agreements with China, India, and Brazil, three of the world’s top ten greenhouse gas emitting nations.

On November 11, 2014, the United States and China announced a deal in which the United States agreed to reduce its emissions 26-28 percent by 2025, and China, for the first time ever, agreed to cap its emissions by 2030. Additionally, each country committed to further cooperate on clean energy research and to promote alternatives to hydrofluorocarbons. On January 25, 2015, President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a new five-year memorandum of understanding on energy security, clean energy and climate change. Among other initiatives, it renewed their jointly funded $125 million Partnership to Advance Clean Energy Research. On June 30, 2015, the United States and Brazil reached a deal to expand each country’s renewable energy generation to 20 percent of their energy portfolio by 2030. Furthermore, Brazil agreed to restore 12 million hectares of rainforest by 2030.

These agreements are part of President Obama’s goal to achieve a binding international climate treaty at the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 21st annual Conference of the Parties (COP21) this December in Paris. Additionally, the United States has submitted an aggressive Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the UNFCCC, reaffirming its goal of reducing domestic carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.


Thanks to the Environment and Energy Study Institute
Authors: Ori Gutin and Brendan Ingargiola
Editors: Laura Small and John-Michael Cross