Biden pledges halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Washington — President Joe Biden said the United States plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 52% by 2030 from 2005 levels during a climate summit with world leaders early Thursday. 

The pledge is a major milestone in the administration's push to shape domestic and foreign policy around fighting climate change — and is a major break from Trump administration policy. It comes at the beginning of a two-day virtual meeting with 40 heads of state, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

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"The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable. And the cost of inaction keeps mounting," Biden said Thursday morning. "The United States isn't waiting, we're resolving to take action."

Achieving that goal, the officials said, will include efforts to reach economy-wide carbon-free power by 2035 by proposing incentives and financial help for utilities using renewable energy sources and efforts to support widespread roll-out of electric vehicles. 

Cutting emissions to at least 50% less than 2005 levels has been urged by environmental groups, scientists and major companies including Apple, Walmart, Google and Starbucks, and aligns with recommendations from the National Academies of Science on what's necessary to stem the worst effects of climate change. 

Biden's aggressive new goal will nearly double the benchmark set in 2015 by former President Barack Obama, who aimed to reach a 26% to 28% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. There's a long way to go: Greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were 10% below 2005 levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Republicans began criticizing the new pledge even before it became official. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, released a statement Wednesday evening calling the pledge a "pie-in-the-sky mandate" that could "severely hamper our global competitive edge" to China's benefit.

While many environmental groups have supported the 50% goal, some argue that benchmark doesn't go far enough. Groups like the Sunrise Movement and the Center for Biological Diversity are endorsing a report that recommends cutting emissions by at least 70% from 2005 levels. 

The climate summit held Thursday and Friday is aimed at rallying world leaders to coordinate on tackling the climate crisis and will begin with a "major economies" meeting led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry in which the leaders can discuss new climate steps being taken in their countries. 

The administration's opening salvo on global climate discussions will also serve as a litmus test for the country's role on the global stage.

Biden hopes to once again make the U.S. a leader in shaping international climate policy, after several policy reversals by former President Donald Trump illustrated to world leaders how quickly American political winds can change.

"The truth is, America represents less than 15% of the world's emissions. No nation can solve this crisis on our own," Biden said. "All of us, and particularly those of us who represent the world's largest economies, we have to step up."

Whether they're successful may be judged on how many countries follow suit in unveiling new, more ambitious targets. Canada and Japan announced new goals of reducing their emissions by 40-45% and 46-50% over 2005 levels, respectively, while others, like China, reiterated their commitment to working with global partners to reduce emissions without announcing new goals.

Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, a 2015 climate treaty in which member countries agreed to work together to limit global warming to 2 degrees below Celsius over pre-industrial levels — the point at which global warming risks are considered very dangerous — by setting increasingly stringent goals to cut emissions. 

In this April 15, 2021, file photo, President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

After taking office, Biden promptly rejoined the agreement ratified by 191 countries. But the world is still on course to miss the target, with 3 degrees Celsius of warming expected without further changes. That's further complicated by the fact that there are few methods to enforce the commitments. 

China is the leading greenhouse gas emitter in the world today, followed by the U.S., India, Russia and Japan. Chinese leadership has questioned the authority of the U.S. to lead on climate after withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, but the two countries recently released a joint statement noting their dedication to working together to reduce emissions.

"We're urging people to pay attention to what we say, what we do and what we deliver," a administration official told reporters Wednesday morning, noting there's likely to be a "significant" public commitment to reducing emissions. 

"Those are things you can watch and you can judge. And as a consequence, we think there's going to be a lot of engagement and willingness to support us going forward."

Biden has made addressing climate change a top priority of his administration, and has appointed a team of leaders across agencies and within the White House that work together on climate policy, including Kerry, White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and EPA Administrator Michael Regan. 

In January, Biden directed his administration to re-evaluate Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards and greenhouse gas emissions standards for the auto sector, which are expected to become more stringent under his leadership. The updated standards are expected to be announced in July.

Twitter: @rbeggin