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U.S. aims to cut emissions 28%

Pledge comes as part of a United Nations treaty to combat climate change

WASHINGTON—The United States has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28 per cent as part of a global treaty aimed at preventing the worst effects of climate change, according to individuals briefed on the White House’s plans.

The administration’s contribution to the treaty, which world leaders expect to finalize in December, codifies a commitment President Barack Obama first made late last year in Beijing, when he announced a joint U.S.-China climate deal that raised global hopes that developed and developing nations can come together to fight climate change.

The U.S. proposal has drawn intense interest around the world. Most nations will miss Tuesday’s informal deadline to convey their contributions to the U.N.—only the European Union, Switzerland and Mexico unveiled their pledges before the U.S. By announcing its commitment early, the U.S. hopes to dial up the political pressure on other countries to take equally ambitious steps to cut emissions.

The White House declined to comment ahead of the official announcement.

In the works for years, the treaty is set to be finalized in Paris in December. If it’s successful, it will mark the first time all nations—not just wealthier ones like the U.S.—will have agreed to do something about climate change.

As part of its proposal, known to climate negotiators as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, the U.S. will also assert that its contribution is both ambitious and fair, said the individuals briefed on the U.S. proposal, who requested anonymity because the proposal hasn’t been announced.

It was unclear what metrics the U.S. would use to back up that claim. But the American proposal is expected to emphasize that the Obama administration has accelerated the rate of emissions reductions nearly twofold. Early in his presidency, Obama committed to cut U.S. emissions 17 per cent by 2020; his subsequent goal for 2025 pushes it to between 26 per cent and 28 per cent.

How will the U.S. meet its goal? The Obama administration has avoided putting hard numbers on the size of emissions reductions it expects from specific steps its taking. In its submission, the EU listed specific economic sectors—such as transportation, energy and manufacturing—where it expects major reductions, and named the specific greenhouse gases it plans to cut.

In contrast, the U.S. is expected to point broadly to the steps Obama is taking through executive action, such as pollution limits on power plants, stricter vehicle emissions limits, and initiatives targeting specific gases like methane and hydrofluorocarbons.

Many of those steps face major legal challenges and intense political opposition, raising the risk that they could be undermined or even discarded once Obama leaves office in 2017.

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