| WASHINGTON, March 10
WASHINGTON, March 10 Later this month, the Obama
administration will unveil how it plans to reduce carbon
emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels within a
decade, the core of the negotiating position it will take to
global climate talks Paris this December.
While the broad outlines of the U.S. position are known,
there is great interest in its intended nationally determined
contribution (INDC), climate diplomats' term for each country's
domestic program to achieve its Paris targets.
So far only the EU and Switzerland have released plans. Most
countries - including China and India - are not expected to do
so until the summer. The Obama administration has suggested that
showing its hand early could pressure other major emitters to be
comprehensive in their own INDCs.
"The administration aims to use its domestic climate action
to leverage global action," said Pete Ogden, director of
international climate policy at the Center for American Progress
and a former chief of staff to U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern.
But to do so, the Obama administration will need to address
some key questions:
* Will the U.S. move closer to a legally binding treaty?
The EU and some developing countries insist that any deal in
Paris be "legally binding" to ensure parties do not backslide on
their promises. While the Obama administration wants a deal
beholden to national laws and regulations, the Republican-held
Congress has made its hostility to an internationally binding
treaty clear. reut.rs/ZsN0Xg
Kate Larsen, a former U.S. climate negotiator and director
at the Rhodium Group, said the United States is unlikely to show
a move toward the EU position. "My gut is that it will be
heavily caveated with legal language about not pre-judging the
Paris outcome and the legal nature of the commitment," she said.
* Can U.S. commitments outlast Obama's presidency?
The Environmental Protection Agency has relied on the
existing Clean Air Act as the main tool to regulate vehicles,
utilities and industry, and political opponents are vowing to
gut those regulations. reut.rs/1KNo2YT
Other countries wonder whether inevitable litigation,
Republican hostility and the end of Obama's second term mean
U.S. commitments could be short-lived.
Jennifer Morgan, the World Resources Institute's climate
program director, said the administration may try to highlight
the Clean Air Act's durability. "The U.S. could explain a bit of
the history of the CAA and the role it's played in U.S. modern
environmental history. It's a very stable regulation," she said,
adding that decades of challenges failed to roll it back.
* How will the INDC account for forest protection and land
One uncertainty about the U.S. plan is how it will account
for carbon dioxide emitted and stored by forests, and land-use.
The issue is controversial because some argue that including
forest and land management in climate policies detracts from
emissions cuts from other sectors such as transportation and
buildings. The EU's INDC deferred the issue to a technical
"It will be interesting to see what the U.S. says about
accounting for this sector," said Alden Meyer, director of
strategy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, adding that the
United States has made a wide range of carbon sequestration and
emissions forecasts from the sector.
* So will there be any surprises?
The United States is constrained in detailing how much each
proposal will contribute to the overall target because some
regulations have not yet been finalized and may face lawsuits.
"The U.S. will probably want to preserve some flexibility as to
how the target is reached since there are so many factors that
cannot be precisely controlled," said Elliot Diringer, executive
vice president for the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
The test then will be whether the American INDC produces
enough detail to push the Chinas and Indias of the world to be
comprehensive in their own national plans.
(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Bruce Wallace and