President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the US is targeting at least a 50% drop in greenhouse gas emissions this decade compared to 2005 levels, reasserting the country as a global climate leader and pushing others to step up on the first day of a climate summit with 40 world leaders.
Although roughly 200 countries signed the Paris climate agreement seeking to limit future warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, ideally to 1.5 degrees, to prevent catastrophe, the world remains far off track. According to a tally of emissions cuts and climate commitments in December 2020 by the United Nations Environment Program, “the world is still heading for a temperature rise in excess of 3 degrees Celsius this century.”
Following on a series of high-profile climate announcements, the Biden administration’s new target to cut the country’s pollution levels 50% to 52% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels is perhaps the most significant to date.
This is the US attempt to keep the 1.5 degree Celsius goal from the Paris agreement in reach, according to a White House official.
"Scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade. This is the decade we must make decisions to avoid the worst consequences of a climate crisis," Biden said from the White House at the virtual climate summit Thursday morning.
"The world beyond 1.5 degrees means more frequent and intense fires, floods, droughts, heatwaves, and hurricanes, tearing through communities, ripping through lives and livelihoods," he said, later adding, "We can’t resign ourself to that future."
This target “gives us significant leverage in pushing for climate action abroad,” a White House official said on a Wednesday night press call. “That’s important because over 85% of greenhouse gas emissions come from outside the United States.”
The US is the largest historical emitter. The Obama administration previously pledged that the US would cut 26% to 28% of emissions by 2025, compared to 2005 levels.
Then the Trump administration ditched the commitment, making the US the first country to withdraw from the international agreement.
Now the US is making another 180-degree turn. From the campaign to taking office, Biden has repeatedly made tackling climate change one of his top priorities. As president, he immediately had the US rejoin the Paris climate agreement; established new high-level climate officials and committees across his administration, including Gina McCarthy as the first-ever White House national climate adviser and John Kerry as the first-ever special presidential envoy for climate; and ordered a sweeping review of anti-environment Trump-era rules. Then he put forward an infrastructure package proposing billions in climate spending, which is now being negotiated in Congress. These actions will all play a role in the US meeting its new climate target.
For the youth climate group, the Sunrise Movement, Biden's goal was not strong enough. "While many will applaud the President’s commitment to cut U.S. emissions by at least half by 2030, we have a responsibility to tell the truth: it is nowhere near enough," Evan Weber, Sunrise Movement political director, said in a statement.
In the lead-up to the White House climate summit, Kerry announced Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro was recommitting to eliminate illegal deforestation and the UK announced a bolder new climate target, seeking a 78% reduction in emissions by 2035.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Chinese President Xi Jinping, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Russian President Vladimir Putin are among the world leaders planning to attend the virtual summit.