World / US and Canada

US to pledge up to 28 percent emission cut in global treaty

(Agencies) Updated: 2015-03-31 13:52

WASHINGTON - The United States will pledge Tuesday to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28 percent as part of a global treaty aimed at preventing the worst effects of climate change, according to individuals briefed on the White House's plans.

The administration's contribution to the treaty, which world leaders expect to finalize in December, codifies a commitment President Barack Obama first made late last year in Beijing, when he announced a joint US-China climate deal that raised global hopes that developed and developing nations can come together to fight climate change.

The US proposal has drawn intense interest around the world. Most nations will miss Tuesday's informal deadline to convey their contributions to the UN - only the European Union, Switzerland and Mexico unveiled their pledges before the US. By announcing its commitment early, the US hopes to dial up the political pressure on other countries to take equally ambitious steps to cut emissions.

The White House declined to comment ahead of the official announcement.

In the works for years, the treaty is set to be finalized in Paris in December. If it's successful, it will mark the first time all nations - not just wealthier ones like the US - will have agreed to do something about climate change.

As part of its proposal, known to climate negotiators as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, the US will also assert that its contribution is both ambitious and fair, said the individuals briefed on the US proposal, who requested anonymity because the proposal hasn't been announced.

It was unclear what metrics the US would use to back up that claim. But the American proposal is expected to emphasize that the Obama administration has accelerated the rate of emissions reductions nearly twofold. Early in his presidency, Obama committed to cut US emissions 17 percent by 2020; his subsequent goal for 2025 pushes it to between 26 percent and 28 percent.

How will the US meet its goal? The Obama administration has avoided putting hard numbers on the size of emissions reductions it expects from specific steps its taking. In its submission, the EU listed specific economic sectors - such as transportation, energy and manufacturing - where it expects major reductions, and named the specific greenhouse gases it plans to cut.

In contrast, the US is expected to point broadly to the steps Obama is taking through executive action, such as pollution limits on power plants, stricter vehicle emissions limits, and initiatives targeting specific gases like methane and hydrofluorocarbons.

Many of those steps face major legal challenges and intense political opposition, raising the risk that they could be undermined or even discarded once Obama leaves office in 2017.

"Considering that two-thirds of the US federal government hasn't even signed off on the Clean Power Plan and 13 states have already pledged to fight it, our international partners should proceed with caution before entering into a binding, unattainable deal," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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