Biden commits U.S. to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030

By Lisa Friedman

President Joe Biden on Thursday declared that America “has resolved to take action” on climate change and called on world leaders to significantly accelerate their own plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or risk a disastrous collective failure to stop catastrophic climate change.

In a show of renewed commitment after four years of the Trump administration’s unvarnished climate denial, Biden formally pledged that the United States would cut its emissions at least in half from 2005 levels by 2030. Barely three months into Biden’s presidency, the contrast with his climate-denying predecessor, Donald Trump, could not have been more striking.

“The signs are unmistakable, the science is undeniable and the cost of inaction keeps mounting,” Biden said.

While the summit was billed as an international one, Biden’s speech was aimed for a domestic audience, focusing not just on America’s obligation to help cut its global emissions but on the jobs he believes are available in greening the U.S. economy.

“The countries that take decisive actions now” to tackle climate change, Biden said, “will be the ones that reap the clean energy benefits of the boom that’s coming.”

The target of 50% to 52% by the end of the decade calls for a steep and rapid decline of fossil fuel use in virtually every sector of the U.S. economy and marks the start of what is sure to be a bitter partisan fight over achieving it.

It is also a significant step up from the Obama administration’s pledge of a 25% to 28% reduction by 2025, and it is meant to signal that Biden’s decision to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change is just the start of an aggressive effort that will include trying to press other nations forward.

The summit is the first of its kind to be convened by a U.S. president, and Biden is joined not only by allies like Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada but also adversaries like President Xi Jinping of China, President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil.

Speaking with reporters Wednesday night, one senior administration official said the new target would give the United States significant leverage for pushing other countries to do more and hinted at new target announcements Thursday from Canada, Argentina and Korea — although not from China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter.

Just before Biden was set to speak, Japan announced it will cut emissions 46% below 2013 levels by the end of the decade, a significant show of solidarity with the United States.

Supporters said the lineup and new announcements after three months of U.S. prodding underscores the unique role that the United States plays in climate negotiations.

Both the world’s largest historic emitter and the largest economy, the United States has long frustrated the climate community by oscillating between action and inaction, yet despite a loss of credibility in some quarters, some say its bully pulpit remains as strong as ever.

“We are still in a period of history in which the United States remains the only nation that can provide effective leadership for the world community,” former Vice President Al Gore said in an interview.

The two-day summit comes at a time when scientists are warning that governments must take decisive action to avoid global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The consequences of exceeding that threshold includes mass species extinctions, water shortages and extreme weather events that will be most devastating to the poorest countries least responsible for causing global warming.

Biden made the case that with the U.S. representing about 15% of global emissions, all countries must step up their ambition. The test will be whether he can galvanize them to do so.

Domestically, Biden will be hard-pressed to win Republican support for his commitment, and without it, he will face skepticism that his promises will stick any more than President Barack Obama’s did.

“The American people don’t need arbitrary pledges or Democrats’ command-and-control approach that could cripple our economy without addressing the true problem that is global emissions,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader, said in a statement.

Officially, nations that are party to the Paris agreement are obligated to announce their new targets for emissions cuts in time for a U.N. conference in Scotland in November.

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