United States United States

The United States edges higher, to 55th, in this year’s CCPI, but it remains lower than most developed economies.

The US receives ratings of very low for the GHG Emissions, Renewable Energy, and Energy Use categories, with a medium for Climate Policy. US climate policies and performance have been in flux because of the changing administration in early 2021, with incoming President Biden vowing to position countering climate change as a pillar of his administration, and a pledge to by 2030 reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels.

Despite this, the CCPI experts believe the political divisions in Congress remain a substantial barrier to implementing any ambitious national policies in the US. Moreover, the current patchwork of policies is insufficient for delivering necessary emissions reductions. Neither the US GHG per capita nor the measures to achieve the 2030 GHG target are aligned with a well-below-2°C benchmark, and consequently receive ratings of very low and low, respectively. The growth of renewable energy (currently rated very low) is held back by insufficient policies on low-carbon infrastructure and electricity networks, though there has been some growth in offshore wind. Despite government plans to cut fossil fuel subsidies, the absence of a phase-out date for coal is a major barrier to achieving a zero-emissions power grid by 2035, net zero economy by 2050, and cutting GHG emissions per capita (rated very low).

Biden’s decision to re-join the Paris Agreement was vital for the US’s international climate policy (rated medium – the highest rating of any category for the country this year), and his efforts constitute clear acknowledgment of the danger of climate change as a substantive change from the previous administration. Nevertheless, most decisions and plans have not yet been finalised, and they still require Congress’ approval, which carries the risk that any progressive climate protection policies could still be weakened. The US submitted a new and stronger target to the COP, and it pledged to implement a range of policies to deliver it, but domestic politics remain a barrier. Re-joining the Paris Agreement and improved climate diplomacy will also be important for how China and the EU approach the COP process.

The following national experts agreed to be mentioned as contributors for this year’s CCPI: Christoph v. Friedeburg (CF Energy Research & Consulting UG);  Christina DeConcini (World Resources Institute)

Technical note: how to read the target comparison graph

The graph above shows the development of a country over the past years compared with its Paris compatible pathway and 2030 target. For all three quantitative categories of the CCPI, this visualisation gives an overview of where a country is right now, where it would need to be to fulfil the Paris Agreement promises and where it aims to be in 2030.

For GHG emissions per capita, the data includes LULUCF, as used for the emissions per capita indicator. This leads to the vast changes in emissions of some countries with high forest coverage.
The calculation of individual country target pathways is based on the common but differentiated convergence approach (CDC). It is based on the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” laid forth in the Framework Convention on Climate Change. All Annex I countries therefore have a decreasing pathway from 1990 onwards, starting at that year’s emissions. 60 years later, in 2050, these countries are expected to reach net zero emissions. All other countries, which did not reach the level of global average emissions in 1990, are allowed to increase emissions until the average is reached. But by latest 2015 these countries, too, have decreasing pathways and 60 years to reach net zero. These pathways start from the global average.

The Renewable Energy data is given in per cent of Total Primary Energy Supply (TPES) and includes hydro energy, consistent with the respective CCPI indicator. As global distribution of Renewables (especially solar and wind) only started in the 2000s, the pathways in this category start in 2010. All countries have an equal goal: 100% Renewables in 2050, each starting from its 2010 value.

For Energy Use the Primary Energy Supply per capita is shown. All pathways for this category start at country’s 1990 values and meet at global average of 80 gigajoules per capita in TPES.
For 2°C and 1.5°C scenarios, a decrease in emissions by reducing the (growth in) energy use is as crucial as deploying renewable (or other low-carbon) technologies. The IPCC carried out a scenario comparison using a large number of integrated assessment models. From the scenarios available, we observe that the total amount of global energy use in 2050 has to be roughly the same level or a bit higher than it is today, with a margin of uncertainty. At the same time population will grow slightly between today and 2050. We therefore pragmatically chose the well-below-2° compatible benchmark to be “same energy use per capita in 2050 as the current global average”, which is 80 gigajoules per capita in TPES.