World Resources Institute WRI

Greenhouse gas mitigation in the United States: An overview of the current policy landscape


In 2009, at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties, President Barack Obama pledged to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions “in the range of a 17 percent emission reduction by 2020 compared with 2005 levels.” To date, this pledge is not enshrined in or supported by any domestic law. However, a variety of federal policies and programs are directly and indirectly reducing GHG emissions. In addition, U.S. state and local governments have authority to adopt GHG-reduction policies, and some are taking noteworthy actions.

In the context of the U.S. GHG reduction goal, this report examines key existing and emerging federal policies that are likely to reduce GHG emissions in the United States. Pages 10-12 also provide examples of policy actions being taken by U.S. states. For federal policies, our discussion focuses on those that are mandatory or provide a financial incentive, such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), tax credits for renewable energy, and new standards for passenger cars and trucks. These programs, and others that are considered in the pages that follow, will drive significant reductions in U.S. GHG emissions.

Will this be enough to meet U.S. GHG reduction goals? Although this report does not provide an exhaustive assessment of U.S. policies, U.S. government GHG projections suggest that additional policy action is likely to be necessary for the United States to achieve the president’s GHG reduction target and continue significant emissions reductions after 2020. At this time, no promising initiatives are being considered in the U.S. Congress to drive further reductions in GHG pollution.

However, federal agencies already have the authority to do more, and have begun to take action. Additional policies such as standards for existing power plants, additional energy efficiency standards for appliances and equipment, and policies that reduce HFC consumption, can drive additional reductions in 2020 and beyond. WRI is conducting a separate analysis to quantify the possible reductions from these policies and to examine their impact on the United States’ 2020 reduction target. Moving forward it will be important to track action on these and other policies.

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