U.S. Commits to Carbon Cuts and Arctic Oil Drilling on the Same Day

The Obama administration submits greenhouse gas reduction goals to the U.N. in the morning and affirms Arctic Ocean energy lease sales in the afternoon.

Filipinos demanded action on climate change outside the U.S. Embassy in Manila in September 2014. (Photo: Erik De Castro/Reuters)

Mar 31, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

Let’s just say the Obama administration appears unclear on the concept of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In the morning on Tuesday, the White House committed the United States to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

Hours later, the Department of Interior announced that it is standing by Bush administration–era sales of leases to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean.

The decision puts Shell, in particular, one giant step closer to drilling in Arctic waters this summer, despite its accident-plagued drilling season in the region in 2012. That year, Shell’s test drilling rig Kulluk ran aground, and its drill ship Noble Discoverer caught fire. These and other accidents underscored the Arctic’s extreme conditions and lack of emergency response services.

A recent analysis found that catastrophic global warming would be almost unavoidable unless most of the world’s untapped fossil fuel deposits remain unexploited—including all oil and gas underneath the Arctic seafloor.

The administration also has proposed opening up areas of the Atlantic seaboard to oil and gas drilling.

The greenhouse gas plan that the U.S. submitted to the United Nations on Tuesday is the formal declaration of targets that President Obama first announced last November at a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. China has not made any commitments to the U.N. on carbon reductions, although Xi stated in November that China’s emissions would peak by 2030 at the latest, and that the country would move more rapidly into renewable energy.

Between them, the U.S. and China are responsible for more than a third of global greenhouse gas pollution. The U.S. is the world’s second-largest carbon polluter after China and the world’s largest historical emitter.

The countries that have so far submitted carbon-cut targets to the U.N. are responsible for just over half the world’s human-propelled greenhouse gas pollution. More are expected to do so in the run-up to international climate treaty negotiations in Paris at the end of the year.

“The U.S. target will roughly double the pace of carbon pollution reduction in the United States from 1.2 percent per year on average during the 2005–2020 period to 2.3–2.8 percent per year on average between 2020 and 2025,” the White House said in a statement, and will maintain the nation on a path to cut emissions 80 percent by 2050.

The U.S. has already achieved roughly a third of the emissions cuts that the White House set out. The nation’s carbon emissions in 2013 were about 6.7 billion tons, an 8.2 percent drop from 2005’s 7.3 billion tons, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency.

A 23 percent reduction would bring emissions down to roughly 5.6 million tons, while a 28 percent reduction would cut U.S. greenhouse gas pollution to 5.3 million tons.

Among the developed nations, the European Union has targeted a 40 percent cut in emissions by 2030. The EU benchmarked its goal against 1990 emissions levels, not those from 2005.

In 1990—the baseline year named in the Kyoto climate agreement, which the U.S. signed but never ratified—the U.S. generated about 6.3 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution.

Among the major developing economies, Mexico announced last Friday that it would cap and begin to reduce emissions by 2026 and aim at a 22 percent reduction by 2030.