On Thursday morning, the Biden administration unveiled a pledge to slice the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half compared to 2005 levels by the end of the decade. It will accomplish this, it says, by investing in infrastructure, funding a green economic recovery from the covid-19 pandemic, taking on pollution, and bolstering American production of clean energy technologies to use at home and abroad.
“The U.S. is not waiting, the costs of delay are too great, and our nation is resolved to act now,” reads a White House fact sheet.
The long-awaited commitment will be codified in the country’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), a plan under the Paris Agreement to keep global temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
The White House says meeting these new goals will also “create millions of good-paying, union jobs” by building out green energy technologies and fixing infrastructure. It’s not alone in that assessment. An analysis released on Monday from Energy Innovation shows that chopping emissions in half by 2030 could create more than 3.2 million new job-years by 2030 and, if the nation continues on that path, create 2 million more by 2050. The report found the associated reductions in pollution would also avoid more than 45,000 premature deaths and 1.3 million asthma attacks by 2050 nationally.
The announcement came just hours before the Earth Day international climate talks, for which the Biden administration is convening with 40 world leaders on Thursday and Friday to “galvanize efforts by the major economies to tackle the climate crisis.”
Both the Earth Day summit and the new NDC signal a major shift away from the nation’s last four years of climate policy. The Trump administration pledged to leave the Paris Agreement June 2017. It followed through last year, one day after the presidential election, but Biden quickly reversed course on his first day in the Oval Office.
The coming NDC to cut emissions between 50% and 52% below 2005 levels is the most ambitious international climate strategy the U.S. has ever committed to. It nearly doubles the 10-year U.S emissions reduction target that the Obama administration set in 2015.
Other world leaders followed in Biden’s footsteps on Thursday in announcing steeper emissions cuts. Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the country would cut carbon emissions at least 40% below 2005 levels by 2030 while Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the nation would set a target of getting carbon pollution to 46% below 2013 levels. South Korea President Moon Jae-in said the nation would no longer finance coal abroad and improve its emissions target as well. Leaders in Brazil and Indonesia also said they would consider new targets to peak or reduce emissions if they received funding to do so, reflecting the role climate finance could play in speeding up decarbonization.
Yet despite the ambition in Biden’s climate pledge, environmental organizers said the commitment is not enough if the U.S. is to meet the challenges of rectifying its total climate impact.
“President Biden’s new climate target demonstrates that he and his administration are serious about tackling the climate crisis—but the hard work is just beginning,” Abby Maxman, president of Oxfam America, said in an emailed statement.
An analysis by Climate Action Tracker found that to be in line with the Paris Agreement’s more aspirational target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), the administration would have to target cutting emissions “at least” 57% to 63% by 2030. Meanwhile, a new report from the environmental justice organization Friends of the Earth suggests that that to meet the nation’s historic responsibility as the biggest carbon polluter, it would have to reduce global emissions by the equivalent of 195% of 2005 U.S. levels through aiding the transition to clean energy in developing countries. The new NDC is nowhere near that ballpark. But details on climate finance, including international debt relief and aid for poorer nations to transition away from fossil fuels, could help pave the way for emissions reductions beyond U.S. borders.
“We hope the Biden administration will build from today’s announcement to create more space to listen to the voices and solutions of those at the frontlines of the climate crisis, advance climate-compatible policies to unlock real funding for climate finance, and craft a more transformative vision for change,” Bridget Burns, Director of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, said in an emailed statement.
Update, 4/22/21, 11:48 a.m.: This post has been updated with information from the summit as well as pledges other nations have made.