Thanks to reduced coal use and successful decarbonization schemes, the U.S. saw a
significant fall in its carbon emissions last year, suggesting it is achieving its aim for an
accelerated green transition. Following the introduction of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)
in the summer of 2022, the U.S. has attracted high levels of private investment in renewable energy, clean technologies, and decarbonization schemes. This has mainly been spurred by the favorable business environment created by the IRA and other supporting policies, which are expected to continue driving investment in the sector over the coming years.
In 2023, greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. fell by 1.9%, largely thanks to reduced coal
burning to provide electricity. The practice fell to its lowest level in over 50 years, which has resulted in a reduction in U.S. emissions of approximately 17.2% since 2005. Further, over the last few years, the U.S. government approved a record amount of federal money for low-emissions technologies, such as solar panels, wind turbines, nuclear reactors, electric vehicles and hydrogen fuels.
Since his inauguration in 2021, President Biden has set out an ambitious list of climate
pledges for the U.S. These include rejoining the Paris Agreement and committing the
international aims, such as net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Over the last three years, the Biden administration has made significant progress in decarbonizing the U.S. economy and tackling climate change, through the introduction of the most far-reaching climate policy to date; the rollout of financial incentives for green investment and collaboration with
In 2021, Biden introduced a national goal to reduce emissions by 50% to 52% from 2005
levels by 2030. Based on significant reductions over the past couple of years, the U.S. is on
track to achieve this goal. Biden has also succeeded in his campaign pledge to introduce
meaningful climate policies. His government introduced the IRA in 2022, as well as the
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (or Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) in 2021, spurring
investment in clean energy manufacturing projects. In 2023, the administration announced draft tax credit guidance for clean hydrogen production, which is expected to further support the green transition.
The Biden administration has also made significant progress in reducing the emission of
superpollutants like hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and methane. In 2022, the Senate ratified
the international Kigali Amendment on reducing HFCs and the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) has issued regulations to reduce HFCs. The government then
introduced the $20 billion Methane Action Plan, which includes 50 specific measures to
decrease HFCs. The IRA also includes a methane emissions fee for some oil and gas sites,
with charges commencing in 2024. Biden, alongside other country leaders, launched the
Global Methane Pledge at the COP26 climate summit in 2021. The pledge now has 155
signatures from countries committing to reduce their methane emissions by at least 30% by2030.
Further to Go
The Biden administration introduced a goal for 50% of new passenger vehicles sold to have
zero emissions by 2030, as well as an executive order making it compulsory for federal
agencies to purchase 100% zero-emission light-duty vehicles by 2027. In 2022, the
Department of Transportation also approved plans to build a $5-billion national electric
vehicle (EV) charging network, with funds coming from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Greater funding for EV manufacturing and uptake and stricter standards on vehicle
emissions are expected to contribute significantly to the goal of requiring all new passenger
vehicles sold after 2035 to produce zero emissions.
Meanwhile, the government has taken steps towards the goal of increasing clean electricity
standards to 55% by 2025, 75% by 2030, and 100% by 2035. An executive order has made it compulsory for federal agencies to procure 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030. Tax credits provided by the IRA are also expected to contribute to this goal. However, the government must take significant steps to develop additional electricity transmission capacity. At present, there is a significant backlog of clean energy projects waiting to be connected to the grid, a challenge that must be tackled to achieve the clean electricity aim.
In terms of home appliances, stricter regulations must be introduced to help reduce
emissions. While the IRA offers tax incentives for the adoption of clean electricity in new
buildings, there is currently no federal ban on the use of fossil fuel appliances, with most
progress to date taking place at the state level.
There has also been some progress in the reduction of emissions in the cement, steel, and
plastics industries through the instruction of carbon capture and storage technologies, as
well as encouraging the purchase of low-carbon building materials. But more needs to be
done to decarbonize hard-to-abate industries. The introduction of low-carbon product
standards could support this aim.
The U.S. has taken a leading role when it comes to climate policy, establishing clear
standards and providing funding mechanisms that other countries will likely follow.
However, the Biden administration must ensure that it follows the IRA up with policy action
and stricter sectoral standards that will help the U.S. achieves national climate goals.
Further, it must do more to manage the emissions of the country’s oil and gas industry,
putting limits on the development of new projects. The U.S. should also ensure it takes a
leading role in international climate change management by participating in international
forums and collaborating with partners, such as the UN and EU. Further, it must act on its
pledge to significantly increase its international climate finance to contribute to a global,
rather than a local, green transition.
Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specializing in Energy and Industry. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK, and is now based in Mexico City.