U.S. Climate Goals: A Reckoning

The editors of Triple Crisis blog received the following letter from regular contributor Sunita Narain and her co-author Chandra Bhushan about their recent report on U.S. government policy on climate change. “Captain America: U.S. Climate Goals—A Reckoning.” They raise tough criticisms of the weak and halting steps that the U.S. government has taken, and express apt concern about whether U.S. ways of production and consumption can long persist—let along be replicated around the world—without causing irreversible and catastrophic harm. Make sure to check out the links, to a summary of key findings and to the full report. —Eds.

We are sending you a link to our just released report, Capitan America in which we take a close and careful look at the U.S. government’s action plan on climate change.


There is also a link to our presentation on our key findings.


We write this report knowing that the threat of climate change is real and urgent. We know this because we in South Asia are already seeing horrific impacts of changing weather, hitting the most poorest and most vulnerable. We strongly believe the world needs an effective and ambitious climate change deal. In this context we ask if the U.S. climate action plan is ambitious, equitable or sufficient? We ask this because it is said that even if U.S. Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) is not ambitious, it signals a change in the country’s position. And that it will build momentum in the future. The question is if the U.S. is on track to make real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions?

Our assessment presents some inconvenient truths, which have worrying implications for our common future. The U.S. climate plan is nothing more than business-as-usual; emission reductions will be marginal at best. What is even more worrying is that the U.S. plan is largely based on improvement in efficiency. This is not enough. Our data analysis shows clearly that gains made by improvements in efficiency are being lost because of increased consumption—sector after sector.

As we explain in our preface to the report, our concern is U.S. lifestyle and consumption patterns are aspirational and addictive. Quite simply, everybody wants to be an American. If it were possible to attain such a lifestyle and yet combat climate change, our concern would be unfounded. But we all know that is not possible. The world—the U.S. and us—cannot combat climate change without changing the way we drive, build homes or consume goods. As we say it is time we accepted that the C-word is the C-word.

It is also important to realise that climate change demands we collaborate and act collectively. The U.S. has to take the lead, point to the direction of change that must be credible and meaningful. Otherwise, the climate agreement will not fructify. The problem also is that the U.S. lack of ambition means that it appropriates carbon space that is needed for development of poorer countries.

We have also pointed out our worry about the lack of critique, indeed the tendency towards self-censorship and restraint in advocating big solutions, we found in the work of big and powerful U.S. civil society groups. For instance, these groups are asking—rightly—for car restraints in many parts of the developing world. But in the U.S., they still push fuel economy standards and, at most, hybrid cars as the panacea to climate ills. There is no bus rapid transit (BRT) being built in the U.S., where over 70-80 per cent people commute to work in cars. This is where practice must also happen, so that the world can follow and emissions reduce.

We know that this report will be received with some disquiet and even disapproval. But we believe that it is important that we work towards change that is real. The threat of climate change is far too serious and the impacts far too devastating for us to tiptoe around tough questions that will determine our future survival.

We will look forward to your comments. Please also do share the report as widely as possible. The sad fact is that the inconvenient truth is not that climate change is happening, but that what we are doing is too little and too late.

Warm regards,

Sunita Narain

Chandra Bhushan

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One Response to “U.S. Climate Goals: A Reckoning”

  1. Mark says:

    Totally right. Our liberal retired friends think nothing of taking European and Asian vacations while they bemoan the future that will be faced by their grandchildren because of those right-wing ignoramuses who deny the importance or even existence of global warming. BUT. Don’t dare suggest that they might better do with one fewer vacation and give that vacation money to people who work against the very fools they rail against.