States have long filled a climate gap in the United States and served as leaders in establishing clean energy and emissions goals. Over 30 states and the District of Columbia have clean energy standards in place. Clean energy goals set mandates for clean energy, usually called Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) or Clean Energy Targets, typically imposed on electricity providers. States differ in what clean energy technologies qualify under their laws. Climate goals, or Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets, set goals for the overall emissions in a state – including energy, transportation, and other sectors.  

Northeast states were early leaders in this trend. Connecticut, for example, was one of the first states in the country to set a goal of 80% emissions reductions by 2050 in legislation. Acadia Center monitors the northeast and mid-Atlantic region and has found the following:  

By the end of 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reports that 67% of electricity retail sales in the U.S. States fall under legally binding RPSs. 

At the federal level, there is no specific statute setting a national U.S. clean energy standard or climate goal, although legislation passed last year – the Inflation Reduction Act – and nonbinding national targets are designed to produce emission reductions 40-50% below 2005 levels by 2030, in line with aggressive state climate goals. Federal policy is intended to reach commitments in the Paris Climate Accords. 

How do these efforts at the state and federal levels compare to other countries?  

The European Union (EU) and the United States are both taking steps to transition towards cleaner energy sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. However, there are some notable differences in their approaches. 

The goal set by the EU would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. To achieve this, the EU has implemented a variety of policies and initiatives to support renewable energy, such as the Renewable Energy Directive, which sets binding targets for renewable energy use, and the European Green Deal, which aims to make the EU’s economy sustainable. The EU also has a carbon pricing system in place, the Emissions Trading System (ETS), which covers energy and industrial sectors and provides a financial incentive for companies to reduce their emissions. 

In March 2023, the European Union agreed to double its renewable energy targets by 2030, a significant increase from its previous target of 32%. The new goal is for 65% of the EU’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030, with further targets for energy efficiency and electrification of transport. 

The US federal government has also recently made progress on climate policy. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan includes significant funding for clean energy and infrastructure, and he has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, similar to the EU 2030 goal. The Biden administration has also rejoined the Paris Agreement and has set emissions reduction targets for the US. 

However, there are still significant challenges facing both the EU and the US in their clean energy transitions. In the EU, some member states remain heavily reliant on fossil fuels, and there is resistance to phasing out these industries. In the US, there is political polarization on climate policy, with some states and industries opposing regulations and incentives for clean energy. 

Overall, while there are differences in the approaches taken by the EU and the US, both are making progress in transitioning to cleaner energy sources. The EU’s ambitious targets and policy framework provide a solid foundation for its efforts, while the US has made considerable progress at the state level and is now beginning to pursue more ambitious national policies. By continuing to work towards their goals, both the EU and the US can make significant contributions to global efforts to combat climate change.