Report: U.S. States with Climate Commitments Off Track to Reach Science-based Emissions Goals

States face emissions gaps between 2030, 2025 climate targets and current policies. Limits on pollution are an essential part of a toolkit for closing the gap.

December 8, 2020
Chandler Green, (803) 981-2211,

(WASHINGTON – Dec 8, 2020) A new report from Environmental Defense Fund using emissions data from Rhodium Group finds that U.S. states with climate commitments are not on track to bring their emissions down consistent with science-based trajectories for 2030. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), reducing global emissions to around 45% below what they were in 2010 by 2030 and continuing to reduce emissions dramatically through 2050 is consistent with a path that can avert devastating impacts of climate change.

By 2030, 25 states and Puerto Rico are collectively projected to reduce emissions by 11% from 2010 levels, rather than the 45% needed to stay on track with the 2030 target. The analysis finds that these states are also off track for reaching the original U.S. commitment under the Paris Agreement, which all of these states have committed to delivering. Here, states are projected to reduce emissions by only about 18% below 2005 levels by 2025, when a reduction of 26-28% is needed. Looking at total U.S. emissions, if this group of states were to close these gaps, they could bring the entire country closer to its climate goals: shrinking the remaining gap in 2030 by nearly half and cutting the 2025 gap by a third.

“While many states have taken important steps on climate, they are not moving fast enough to turn commitments into the policies that will lock in the needed reductions in pollution,” said Pam Kiely, Senior Director for Regulatory Strategy at EDF. “This analysis sends a clear signal to governors and state lawmakers: making a climate commitment is only the starting point – not the finish line. Even under a new president with a meaningful climate agenda, state policies are essential for securing significant and immediate reductions in climate-warming pollution that can reduce long-term climate damages. It’s also time for states that haven’t made a climate commitment to join the effort to reduce pollution and safeguard our health, economy and ecosystems. With a vanishing window to take transformative action, state leaders have to put their foot on the pedal today.”

Since 2017, when President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, states have taken on a bigger role in climate leadership. This includes the 25 governors (including Puerto Rico) who have joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of states committed to meeting the targets of the agreement – reducing emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Louisiana is not an official member of the U.S. Climate Alliance, but it established a target by executive order to reduce net emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, 40-50% by 2030 and 100% by 2050. Collectively, these states with climate targets represent more than half the U.S. population and the third largest economy in the world behind China and the U.S.To further illustrate the challenges beyond goal setting, the analysis examines the current climate policy state-of-play in four geographically and politically diverse states: Washington, Minnesota, Colorado and North Carolina. While these states are leading with sector-specific policies, with some requiring 100% clean electricity, adopting low- and zero-emission vehicle standards, and more, they still need policy tools to cover emissions across all sectors with enforceable limitations on pollution consistent with what science demands.

“The urgency of the climate crisis – which Americans are experiencing in the form of raging wildfires, stronger hurricanes and blistering heat waves – demands serious limits on emissions now,” said Derek Walker, Vice President for U.S. Climate at EDF. “The longer that state leaders wait to implement policies that place concrete limits on major sources of pollution in their states, the more difficult it will become to avert the most costly climate impacts. As both state and federal leaders develop plans to rebuild and revitalize the economy in the wake of COVID-19, there is tremendous opportunity to invest in a clean economy, while putting in place policy frameworks that can drive deep declines in emissions and protect the communities most burdened by pollution.”

In developing climate policy approaches to achieve their commitments, EDF recommends that states:

  • Establish declining, enforceable limits on GHG emissions: These limits should serve as a backstop for reaching emissions targets, covering emissions from all of the state’s major sources of pollution, and can be source based, sector based or applied across multiple sectors. For example, 10 states in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic have been successfully reducing carbon emissions from the power sector through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
  • Ensure environmental and economic benefits are directed to disproportionately-impacted communities: Alongside and as part of an emissions cap framework, states should ensure that benefits from investments in a clean energy future, including improvements in local air quality, are directed to communities most overburdened by pollution, as well as to workers and communities impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels.
  • Evaluate progress based on emissions metrics consistent with science: States should establish an emission reduction trajectory over the next decade that accounts for the cumulative impact of long-lived climate pollutants and aligns with the IPCC’s estimated carbon dioxide budgets.
  • Consider an approach that puts a price on pollution: If well designed, using a carbon price to help meet pollution limits can enable much greater ambition by securing the most cost-effective reductions, jumpstarting innovation and accelerating early action—which critically will help facilitate greater cumulative emission reductions.
  • Catalyze the development and deployment of clean technologies: Supporting the ongoing adoption of performance-oriented policies can accelerate the development and deployment of clean technologies in conjunction with an emissions limit —cleaning up our cars and buildings—and making the limits on pollution easier to achieve over time.

Read the full report and blog explaining key findings. The report appendix includes emissions data and gap analysis graphs for every single state with gubernatorial climate commitments.

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