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Reducing US greenhouse emissions 50 per cent by 2030: is it likely?

By Chris Lewis - posted Thursday, 2 December 2021

Although many Americans accept scientist warnings that allowing global temperatures to rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels (currently 1.1 degree Celsius) runs the risk of greater environmental calamities (including rising sea levels), just how likely is the US to uphold President Biden’s 2021 commitment to cut 50 per cent of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels?

As it stands, the US only reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2 per cent from 1990 to 2019, with renewable energy sources (wind, hydroelectric, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy) providing 21 per cent of all US electricity in 2020 with a record 834 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) ahead of nuclear (790 billion kWh) and coal (774 billion kWh) and only behind natural gas (1,617 billion kWh).  

So can the US greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and play a major global leadership given it contributed 11 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, second only to China with 27 per cent?


First, there will be an enormous fiscal cost for the US to reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially, although a 2021 study published in Environmental Research Letters found that the cost of doing nothing could be immense if just 10 per cent of economic damages from climate change were to persist and reduce economic growth.

While the study found that resulting adverse economic impacts from global warming would be heavily borne by countries in Africa, South Asia, and Latin America given their already hot climates and a lack of resources available for adaptation efforts, a separate World Meteorological Organization report found that the US has faced half of the costs of more frequent extreme weather in recent decades with extreme Atlantic hurricanes since 1992 (prior to the 2021 Hurricane Ida)  costing nearly $1.2 trillion when adjusted for inflation.

The Chinese ministry estimates that its aim to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 will cost China $US14.725 trillion (US dollars throughout article) over the next 30 years ($490 billion per year), despite China producing over 70 per cent of all solar photovoltaic panels, half of the world’s electric vehicles and a third of its wind power, and controlling many of the raw materials crucial for clean-tech supply chains, such as cobalt, rare earth minerals and polysilicon.

With the European Green Deal also committing $1.17 trillion in the next ten years to promote low-carbon economic growth, it remains to be seen how much the US will spend on addressing greenhouse gas emissions over time.

This is despite Congress eventually supporting President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal during November 2021, after considerable negotiation, to include a number of measures that will help reduce US greenhouse gas emissions.

The deal included $66 billion for sustainable transportation options that would also replace thousands of transit vehicles with clean, zero emission vehicles;


$7.5 billion to build the first-ever national network of Electric Vehicle chargers throughout the US to include highway corridors to facilitate long-distance travel;

and $65 billion to upgrade power infrastructure which will also facilitate the expansion of renewable energy.

Second, reducing greenhouse gas emissions may be complicated by those arguing for higher US population growth which could obstruct gross greenhouse gas reduction aims even if per capita US CO2 emissions continues having already declined from 23.2 metric tonnes in 1973 to 13.68 metric tons in 2020 with most of the decrease since 2000.

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About the Author

Chris Lewis, who completed a First Class Honours degree and PhD (Commonwealth scholarship) at Monash University, has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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