Climate Harm 'Inevitable,'More Cuts Needed, Holdren Says

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By Andrew Childers

July 11 — Some harms from climate change are “inevitable,” and additional emissions reductions will be necessary even after the historic Paris climate change agreement reached in 2015, a top White House science adviser said July 11.

John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said even the current Paris Agreement deal to keep temperatures from increasing by more than 2 degrees Celsius would equate to as much as 15 feet of sea level rise. The deal, reached by nearly 200 countries, is significant, but alone it will not be enough to achieve that 2-degree target, Holdren said at the 2016 Energy Information Administration Energy Conference.

“The Paris agreement only goes to 2030. It’s only a down payment. … Further steep reductions will be required after 2030,” he said.

Countries will be required to submit updated plans to address greenhouse gas reductions in years beyond 2030, and Holdren said the U.S. and others should invest in the research necessary to make wider use of carbon capture viable and allow nuclear power to compete with cheap natural gas. Lower natural gas prices and the lack of a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel are two of the most significant obstacles to wider use of nuclear power, Holdren said.

“Without that, many communities will not accept nuclear power plants because they expect in the absence of a national solution, the spent fuel will just accumulate at the plant site and what they’re accepting is a waste repository and not just a nuclear facility,” he said.

Deal Must Drive Additional Steps

The greenhouse reduction pledges that constitute the Paris Agreement—known as intended nationally determined contributions—will not be sufficient to meet the agreement's goal and more will be needed, Jacob Werksman, principal adviser at the European Commission, said. To be successful, the Paris Agreement must be a catalyst for nations to periodically update and revise their reduction goals to meet that 2 degree target, he said.

The shortfall is difficult to quantify because of the wide variety of pledges offered by more than 180 countries.

“They appear in infinite variety,” Werksman said. “They’re very difficult to quantify, they’re difficult to compare and they’re very difficult to aggregate.”

‘Less Formal' Power Plant Guidance Possible

The Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, which limits carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector, forms the backbone of the U.S. pledge to reduce emissions, and the EPA is struggling with how much work it can do to prepare for the rule despite being stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rather than finalize its proposed guidance to states on implementing the Clean Power Plan, the EPA may issue “less formal” measures in light of a court stay of the rule, Joseph Goffman, associate assistant administrator and senior counsel in the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court has stayed the carbon dioxide standards for power plants, preventing the EPA from taking any action to implement the rule, Goffman said the agency could pursue “some other less formal instrument to move the ball forward.” However, Goffman said at the Energy Information Administration's 2016 Energy Conference that no decisions have yet been made. The EPA proposed the model trading rules (RIN:2060-AS47) at the time it issued the Clean Power Plan. The guidance is intended to aid state regulators, who are charged with implementing the standards.

Rule Tracks Industry Changes

Though the Supreme Court has taken the unprecedented step of staying the Clean Power Plan before the rule can even be argued before an appellate court, Goffman defended the carbon dioxide standards as built upon a foundation of steps that the utility industry is already taking to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

“We labored mightily, if you will, to ensure the definition we gave to [best system of emission reduction] in setting the standards in the Clean Power Plan was closely linked or allied with what is already happening in the sector in terms of technologies, actions, existing state level programs, economic responses, business strategies and the whole ensemble if you will of activities already taking place in the power sector,” Goffman said.

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