One year into Obama's Climate Action Plan: What has he delivered?

Reading time: 4 minutes
27 June 2014

NEW YORK: Obama’s Climate Action Plan, launched in June 2013, committed to “steady, responsible action to cut carbon pollution … so that we leave behind a cleaner, more stable environment,” but one year on what exactly has been achieved?

Central to the plan was a commitment to tackle carbon emissions from power plants, which account for approximately 40% of total US emissions, and in June 2014 this was delivered.

Under the new standards states can cut emissions via a cap and trade system, greater energy efficiency or by fuel switching, with June 2016 the deadline for deciding what method suits their individual situation best.

However, “while this kind of flexible approach enables greater emission reductions at lower cost, it also makes the rule more vulnerable to legal challenges, Evan Juska, Head of US Policy for The Climate Group, warned.

“In finalizing the rule, the key challenge for the Administration will be finding the right balance between ambition and legality.”

Since 2005, US power sector emissions have fallen by 15%, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is confident that the new Clean Power Plan will significantly build on progress to date.

The Agency forecast that $93 billion in climate and public health benefits will result from the new standards, and note that by increasing energy efficiency and decreasing demand in the electricity system, the measures will also cut electricity bills by around 8%.

It hoped that with the Clean Power Pill, the US will be on track to achieving the total cut in national greenhouse gas emissions of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, which the Climate Action Plan targeted.

Ancillary to the Clean Power Plan, was the Clean Air Act’s regulations on power plant smog, which, in a decisive May Supreme Court ruling, were upheld. The decision on the regulations tackling emissions that cross state lines was an important environmental victory for the Obama administration who committed to improving air quality in the rigorous climate strategy.


A key area of opportunity which the Climate Action Plan addresses is greater energy efficiency. The Administration recognizes that efficient use of energy not only cuts greenhouse gases but also saves costs, making it an ideal area for climate action.

Nine proposed energy conservation standards for appliances and equipment were introduced last year and a further eight energy conservation standards have been finalized.

In addition, the Department of Energy announced a preliminary code for buildings, indicating that the President is committed to delivering on the efficiency aspect of the Plan.

Separately, a comprehensive study by CBRE and Maastricht University found that the number of US buildings awarded the Energy Star-label has increased by close to 600% since 2005.


The case for urgent action on global warming was crystallised with the launch of the National Climate Assessment plan in May of this year. The landmark study represents the most comprehensive and stark account of the impact of climate change on the United States.

The scientific and economic evidence which the report draws on is likely to continue to influence Obama’s climate decision for the remainder of his second term.

The President has demonstrated a willingness to work with local government in developing a comprehensive climate change mitigation strategy, as evidenced by his State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. The coalition which was launched the previous November is made up of 26 governors, county executives, mayors and tribal leaders who highlight how communities across America are critically affected by the rise in temperatures.


The NCA was closely followed by additional commitments relating to renewable energy, which, although not specifically addressed in the Climate Action Plan, will be pivotal for achieving the low carbon transition.

US commitment to sustainable energy was hinted at when Obama used his State of the Union address to draw attention to the economic gains associated with renewables: "Every four minutes another American home or business goes solar, every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can't be outsourced. 

The introduction of 300 new commitments which aim to realize the full potential of the US market, in addition to promoting energy efficiency, are likely to foster an even greater updake of the alternative energy supply. In fact the new pledges provide for 850 megawatts of solar power, the equivalent electricity need of 130,000 American homes.

Similarly, and also in May, the President installed solar panels on the roof of the premier American home, the White House.

“Solar panels on the White House are a really important message that solar is here, we are doing it, we can do a lot more”, US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz observed.


A promising signal of commitment to international climate action, was the announcement that the US would collaborate with the EU to ensure that an ambitious deal was achieved at the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in Paris 2015.

In a joint statement, the two major powers recognized: “Sustainable economic growth will only be possible if we tackle climate change, which is also a risk to global security. [...] The 2015 agreement must be consistent with science and with the goal of limiting the global temperature increase to below 2°C, and should therefore include ambitious mitigation contributions, notably from the world’s major economies and other significant emitters.”

While Paris is still over a year away, the US will have a chance to highlight early commitment initiatives at the UN Climate Summit, which will conveniently be held in New York this September.

Evan Juska, Head of US Policy at The Climate Group, shared his thoughts on the last twelve months’ developments: "While the US has made progress reducing emissions over the past several years, whether or not it is able to meet its short-term emission reduction target of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, will depend on successful implementation of the three main pieces of the President's Climate Action Plan - including efforts to reduce carbon in the power sector, HFCs, and methane."

"The Administration's main priority now will be getting each of these on the books before the President leaves office in 2017."  

By Alana Ryan

Related news

Facebook icon
Twitter icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon
Google icon