Can the non-party stakeholders fulfill the aims of Paris Agreement even if the Clean Power Plan fails?

By Archita Mohapatra*

Paris Protest (34198166574).jpg

US energy polices have been in controversy since the advent of the Trump administration. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered on August 8, 2017, to stay all proceedings in West Virginia v. EPA for another 60 days i.e.until the EPA submits a concrete report on the operation of the Clean Power Plan (CPP). This plan was devised during the Obama administration to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) by power generators. The states were required to meet specific standards in order to fulfil individual reduction targets. The dispute over the implementation of the CPP arose when North Dakota filed an application against the EPA to stay the execution of the plan, which was first rejected by the D.C. Circuit Court. A month later, West Virginia and several other states filed stay applications. This application was accepted and the US Supreme Court granted the stay on the operation of the CPP on February 9, 2016. A year later, the Trump administration issued an Executive Order on March 28, 2017 directing the EPA to review the CPP in order to examine its legality and to repeal or revise the plan executed by the Obama administration. The order characterized the plan, as well as other existing energy laws, as impediments to US energy independence.  The order was provided for review and thus brought the CPP to an operational standstill.  Since the review is ongoing, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the consolidated cases on operation of the CPP be held in abeyance for another 60 days on April 28. Given the announcement of US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in June, 2017, the CPP is not expected to be put into operation after the review.

The EPA proposed the CPP in 2014 and it came into effect in October 2015. It was formulated to reduce the CO2 emissions of existing power plants by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, with specific targets to be maintained by respective states. This step was carried out during the Obama administration with the intention of meeting the reduction targets set by the US under the Paris Agreement. However, the Trump administration defunded the CPP in its 2018 federal budget proposal. Moreover, Trump’s opposition to the obligations under the Paris Agreement removed the motivation for the CPP. He received support from various states, which showed had opposed the reduction targets set under the plan. After the order by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on August 8, all litigation proceedings have been put on hold until the EPA decides to either repeal or revise the CPP. The report by the EPA would also help decide the matters relating to the operation of the CPP, put forth by different states.

After the US’s announcement of withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, various cities, states and corporate groups have taken up the responsibility to maintain their individual targets towards implementing the Agreement. The Agreement allows only nations or regional economic integrations to be parties. However, the UNFCCC has provisions to also involve non-party stakeholders, viz. states, residents, corporate bodies, etc. called the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (“NAZCA”) Portal. It is a platform for reflecting climate-related commitments by non-state actors which are exercised by the states, cities and business organizations of the United States.  Around 12 states, as well as Puerto Rico, have come together to form a United States Climate Alliance, a separate entity to uphold the commitments of the US made under the Paris Agreement. Reportedly, two Republican governors, namely Charlie Baker and Phil Scott have decided to support Democrats in forming the alliance for combating climate change. In addition, several mayors have also defied the Trump’s administration’s decisionwithdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. The United States Conference of Mayors strongly opposed the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and vowed to continue with their efforts to fulfil the reduction targets. Adding to this, around 98 mayors have pledged their support for a community wide transition to 100% renewable energy under Sierra Club’s “Mayors for 100% Clean Energy.”

On June 6, Hawaii passed a law to remain committed towards the Paris Agreement. The State Senate of California passed a bill towards the end of May to receive all its energy from renewable and zero-carbon sources by 2045. Governor Andrew Cuomo has initiated an energy strategy for New York called Reforming the Energy Vision (REV). It aims to achieve a 40% reduction in Green House Gases from 1990 levels, mandates that 50% of electricity generated must come from renewable sources, and a reduction of energy consumption by buildings by 23% from 2012 levels. Individuals have also stepped up to address this issue as former New York mayor and UN envoy for Climate Change Michael Bloomberg has pledged to contribute USD 15 million towards any gap that is created after the withdrawal of the US. 

Currently, the Trump administration is designing a replacement plan for the CPP. One of the industry groups, Coalition for Innovative Climate Solutions, has proposed a replacement plan for the CPP which gives greater flexibility to states to choose their own compliance plans. However, it has not been accepted by other countries since they are relying upon the US Government to frame a replacement plan. With this replacement plan in process, the CPP might be gone for good. But, in this author’s opinion, the non-party stakeholders could fulfill the objectives of the Paris Agreement, irrespective of any legal obligations as required under CPP.

*Archita Mohapatra is a law student pursuing a B.B.A.LL.B at National Law University Odisha.