EPA Working to Ensure Paris Deal ‘Cast in Stone'

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By Andrew Childers and Andrea Vittorio

Jan. 7 — The Environmental Protection Agency will spend the next year working to ensure that the climate change deal reached in Paris “is cast in stone to the extent we can,” Administrator Gina McCarthy said.

The EPA's climate change regulations, particularly the Clean Power Plan (RIN 2060-AR33), which sets carbon dioxide limits on the fleet of existing power plants, were key in providing the U.S. with credibility as it worked with nearly 200 other countries to cement the international climate deal reached in Paris last December, McCarthy said. Now the Obama administration will spend the remainder of its time in office implementing that rule, as well as pursuing new limits on methane emissions from landfills and new oil and gas wells and establishing additional limits on carbon dioxide emissions from trucks as a way to ensure that the U.S. can live up to the emissions reductions pledge it made as part of the agreement, McCarthy told the Council on Foreign Relations Jan. 7.

“2016 is not going to be a year we slow down. It's a year we build on the momentum of the historic year that passed,” McCarthy said, echoing points she had made in a Jan. 4 blog post (01 ECR, 1/4/16).

The Paris Agreement essentially is built on voluntary pledges from developed and developing nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, but it includes binding transparency requirements to verify those actions. Developed and most developed nations will be required to provide detailed reports on their climate actions every two years. Details of the verification process is among the key issues nations will hash out at the next round of UN talks later this year in Morocco (245 ECR, 12/22/15).

‘End of the Beginning.’

The Paris Agreement should be thought of as “the end of the beginning” as nations move from arguing about the issue to acting on it, Paul Bodnar, who directs climate and energy work at the National Security Council, said at a separate Jan. 7 event presented by the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington.

“The most important thing we need to do now is to shift our whole focus from negotiating to doing,” he said.

Now that countries have agreed on the need for a low-carbon shift, Bodnar said the next question is pace: “How fast are we going to get there?”

“That's, to me, the organizing principle of what comes next,” he said, for renewable energy and climate finance, for example.

Rick Duke, who helps lead climate efforts at the White House's Domestic Policy Council and Council on Environmental Quality, at the same event highlighted the big renewable energy boost coming from the budget deal that passed Congress just after the Paris accord was reached.

The unexpectedly generous package, which extends tax credits for wind and solar for five years, could spur about $73 billion in investments, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates (241 ECR, 12/16/15).

“We've got tremendous momentum on solar and wind already,” Duke said at the CSIS event. “And now you've got a clear, stable foundation to continue scaling up those solutions and continue bringing down the cost.”

International Inventories

In addition to its suite of domestic greenhouse gas regulations, the EPA also will work with developing countries to improve their ability to measure their greenhouse gases as nations prepare to meet the Paris Agreement's transparency and verification requirements.

“Most countries hate to be the one who didn't meet the goals they articulated and that's a huge driver when you get into the international world,” McCarthy said.

Accurate inventories will be vital to ensuring nations meet those goals because it is quite easy for inherent biases and assumptions to skew estimates of emissions, she added.

“It's amazing how bad we are at estimating that before we look at it,” McCarthy said.

The EPA has offered its expertise to developing countries, including China, as they begin to work on their emissions inventories, even embedding agency staff overseas to provide technical assistance.

While working internationally to improve emissions inventories, McCarthy said the EPA also is focused on ensuring its own measurements and data are as accurate as possible.

“We're going to keep looking at the science around this and the analytics,” she said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrew Childers in Washington at achilders@bna.com and Andrea Vittorio in Washington at avittorio@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com