The European Union said the US must do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than the proposal President Barack Obama's government released on Monday if it's to keep talks on limiting global warming on track.
The decision announced by the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington calls on existing power plants to reduce fossil fuel pollution by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. It's the most comprehensive climate-protection plan yet from Obama's administration.
"All countries including the United States must do even more than what this reduction trajectory indicates," EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said in a statement from her office in Brussels today.
The program starts to set in place policies the US will bring to discussions this year of 190 nations on how to limit emissions after 2020. Envoys to those talks organized by the United Nations intend to make an agreement next year that would apply to all nations. The US has yet to discuss what its goal for the next decade will be.
Obama failed to win support in Congress in his first term for a bill that would have capped carbon dioxide output from industry and allow polluters to trade emissions permits. He's using his executive authority under the Clean Air Act to enact the restrictions outlined by the EPA.
Without action, scientists say the planet will warm more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since the industrial revolution, the steepest rise since the last ice age ended more than 10,000 years ago. Environmental groups agreed with the EU that the US and other nations must do more to combat the risk to the climate.
"While a step forward, this rule simply doesn't go far enough to put us on the right path," Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, said in a statement. "The science on climate change has become clearer and more dire, requiring more aggressive action from the president."
The European Commission, the EU's regulatory arm, has proposed the 28-nation bloc cut greenhouse gases 40 per cent by 2030, doubling the scale of the reduction it's making by 2020. The US is on track to meet its commitment to pare 17 per cent of emissions from 2005 levels and hasn't yet discussed a 2030 target. The rules proposed by Obama today apply to US power plants, which produce about two-thirds of the country's greenhouse gases.
"This proposed rule is the strongest action ever taken by the US government to fight climate change, which is good news and also shows that the United States is taking climate change seriously," Hedegaard said. "This is an important step for an administration and a President really investing politically in fighting climate change."
Action by the US is necessary to bring countries including China and India with the quickest-growing pollution levels into a global agreement.
Those nations were classed as developing nations and exempt from making binding commitments in 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, rolling out an international system of pollution limits in industrial nations for the first time.
"I fully expect action by the United States to spur others in taking concrete action," Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said in a statement.
Envoys to the UN talks meet in Bonn this week to set out language for the deal that they intend to adopt next year, and is expected to take effect in 2020.
Australia, while welcoming Obama's program, said countries will follow their own paths. The Abbott government in Australia, which has the largest per-capita fossil-fuel emissions among rich nations, aims to kill off the world's highest emission tariffs brought in by the prior Labor administration.
"We welcome constructive action to cut emissions," the office of Environment Minister Greg Hunt said in an e-mailed statement. "Each country can play its role but no single model will suit every country. The US is taking its own approach and we respect that."
The US achieved carbon cuts by boosting energy generated from natural gas, his office said. Australia has pledged to cut emissions from its economy 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020. That would mean a 12 per cent reduction from a 2005 baseline.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will convene a summit in New York in September, when he expects nations to pledge action to cut pollutants causing global warming. Environment and energy ministers will meet in Peru in December for more discussions and then in Paris in December 2015.
"This announcement will put other global leaders on notice that the US will do everything necessary to get a global climate agreement in Paris," said Nick Mabey, chief executive officer of E3G, a British non-profit group advocating sustainable development. " Obama cannot deliver limits on coal power at home unless he can show China is committed to reducing emissions as well."