President Joe Biden pledged that the United States would cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half from 2005 levels by the end of the decade as part of a bold climate plan outlined on April 22 during a virtual Earth Day summit with 40 heads of government, including China.
Calling climate change "the existential crisis of our time," Biden urged other countries to make similar, aggressive cuts to limit global temperature increases to just 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels by 2030. Without intervention, the world is on course to see around 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by 2100.
The new, non-binding emissions target is about twice as ambitious as the previous U.S. target – set during the Obama administration – of a 26% to 28% cut by 2025. Moreover, research firm Energy Innovation estimates that without any new emissions cutting policies, the U.S. is on track to reduce emission by just 12% by 2030 – nowhere near Biden’s goal. Still, just making the pledge to cut emissions will likely put America back in a leadership role on climate change, after four years of climate inaction. The summit, Biden’s first major international gathering, also sought to build trust among other nations, given that the U.S. has been the largest contributor to climate change over the past century
Achieving the 2030 target would require greatly accelerating the transition of U.S. industry, transportation, and power generation away from fossil fuels toward cleaner energy sources, as well as increasing efficiency. While Biden can shift American policy through agencies and executive orders, he will need Congress for funding. The plan references “incentives,” which likely means tax policy, that would require Congressional action. Capitol Hill’s inaction on climate change, particularly among Republican lawmakers, is longstanding.
Biden emphasized the economic opportunity in transitioning to a more sustainable global economy, perhaps to entice Republicans and energy-state Democrats to the effort. Top executives with Bank of America and Citigroup spoke on behalf of the aggressive U.S. approach, another factor that might shift the thinking of conservative lawmakers.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen acknowledged the immense cost of transitioning the global economy. She said her department is working to secure private financing to help countries move away from fossil fuels and adapt to climate impacts that she said have already become unavoidable. Yellen also noted the administration's request for $1.2 billion for the Green Climate Fund, an international framework that's designed to help developing countries – which have contributed far less to global warming – deal with its mounting impacts.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was the first leader of another nation to speak after U.S. officials. China currently is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, nearly doubling U.S. levels in recent years and funding coal-fired power both at home and in various countries.
"China has committed to move from carbon peak to carbon neutrality in a much shorter time span than what might take many developed countries, and that requires extraordinary hard efforts from China," Xi said. "We will strictly control coal-fired power generation projects. We will strictly limit the increase in coal consumption."