WASHINGTON — The United States is not on track to meet its international commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the World Resources Institute, a prominent think tank.
The new findings examine the impact of the U.S. energy and transportation sectors as well as sources such as methane releases from landfills. The study gives a pessimistic outlook even though carbon emissions have fallen in recent years because of the economic downturn and increased use of natural gas to produce electricity.
While the Obama administration has taken steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the analysis suggests that noncarbon emissions are on the rise, from the U.S. natural gas boom and chemicals used as refrigerants.
The U.S. target is to cut greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.
Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions have fallen 8.7 percent compared with 2005 levels and are projected to remain stable through 2035. But greenhouse gas emissions from other sources are expected to increase 18 percent by 2020 compared with the 2005 baseline, and 36 percent by 2035.
Imposing greenhouse gas emission limits on existing power plants, a policy the White House is considering, could halve the gap between the current trajectory and the country's 2020 climate target. Phasing out hydrofluorocarbons, used in cooling equipment from soda machines to many car air conditioners, would make up 23 percent of the gap, the report says, while stricter federal rules for natural-gas methane emissions and energy-efficiency standards would make up 11 percent and 8 percent, respectively, of the difference.
"The U.S. is not yet on track to hit its 17 percent target, but we have the tools to get there," said Nicholas Bianco of WRI, the report's lead author.