US President Joe Biden today committed his country to a swingeing 50-52% cut to its greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, at the same time urging other nations to take more aggressive actions to confront climate change.
“No nation can solve this crisis on our own. All of us, and particularly those of us that represent the world’s largest economies, we have to step up,” he said, in opening remarks at a two-day virtual climate summit at the White House attended by 40 world leaders, including representatives from China and Russia.
Biden, who took office in January, said his administration is “resolved to take action”, and that both the interim target and his ambition for the US to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 are achievable. The US accounts for about 15% of global emissions.
“The signs are unmistakable, the science is undeniable, and the cost of inaction keeps mounting,” he said.
The new, non-binding pledge is almost double the former US goal set by President Barack Obama in 2015 as part of the Paris Agreement which called for a 26-28% reduction by 2025, also from 2005 levels. The US re-entered the accord earlier this year after walking away under Donald Trump.
US emissions have been on a steady decline in recent years, mainly due to the electric power sector transitioning from coal and fuel oil to cleaner natural gas and renewables. Transportation is now the top emissions source with electricity likely to fall to third in the next several years behind industry, where a growing number of companies support Biden’s climate ambitions.
In 2019, emissions were roughly 13% below 2005 levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which does not have complete data for 2020. The Rhodium Group, an independent research group, estimates the decline was 21% last year, partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They are ticking up again in 2021 as the economy recovers.
Biden over the last three months has laid out broad goals on climate policy but his administration is still working on a detailed pathway to placing the country on a path toward achieving them.
Early signs point to a mix of forthcoming executive branch agency actions, regulations and rules combined with trillions of dollars in federal funding and tax breaks for climate-related infrastructure upgrades and creation of a domestic clean energy supply chain.
Despite a nearly even-divided Congress, Biden appears willing to go along with efforts by party leaders and try and pass partisan legislation to make a national clean energy standard legally binding.
Biden claims that meeting the 2030 emissions target will create millions of good-paying, middle-class, union jobs in several dozen diverse areas of the economy. These include grid and transmission; capping abandoned oil wells, reclaiming mines and stopping methane leaks; electric vehicle manufacturing; carbon capture and green hydrogen; cleaner cement and steel, and in agriculture that employs new technologies to “make American soil the next frontier of carbon innovation.”
The summit coinciding with Earth Day is part of Biden’s push to re-establish US leadership on international action on climate, which he has made a centerepiece of his presidency.
The White House is hoping to build momentum in the run-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference this fall in Scotland where some nations are expected to announce more aggressive actions to cut emissions.
Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, leaders of US rivals China and Russia, did take part in the summit but neither announced specific new goals for reducing emissions.
Xi pledged that China, the world's leading emitter, would cooperate with the US to tackle climate change. "To protect the environment is to protect productivity, and to boost the environment is to boost productivity. It's as simple as that," he said.
Putin said Russia is "genuinely interested" in galvanizing international cooperation so as "to look further for effective solutions to climate change as well as to all other vital challenges." Russia is among the top five emitting countries.
On Wednesday, European lawmakers and government representatives of the 27 member states have provisionally agreed on a new 2030 target for a 55% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels.