President Joe Biden announced a new goal to sharply cut down US greenhouse gas emissions this decade. The country’s new mandate is to reduce planet-heating gases by 50 to 52 percent of what the US emitted in 2005. It significantly ramps up a previous commitment under the Paris climate agreement made by former President Barack Obama, who pledged to slash emissions between 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
The urgency for the US to gut its climate pollution has only grown since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015. Global carbon dioxide emissions need to drop by half this decade and reach close to zero by the middle of the century in order to hit the goals of the Paris Agreement and prevent some of the most devastating effects of climate change, a landmark 2018 report found. The US has a huge role to play as the second biggest greenhouse gas polluter after China. But it abdicated leadership on the climate front under former President Donald Trump, who briefly pulled the US out of the Paris accord and drastically rolled back environmental regulations in the US.
Now the US hopes to regain respect on the international stage when it comes to tackling the climate crisis. Biden will hold his own virtual summit on climate today (Earth Day) and tomorrow aimed at encouraging other countries to ratchet up their goals. All countries are expected to update their individual commitments to combating climate change ahead of a United Nations climate conference scheduled to take place in November.
“[The Biden administration is] very cognizant that the US as a credible actor and leader in this space really depends in large measure on having a really robust new target,” says Pete Ogden, vice president for energy, climate, and the environment at the United Nations Foundation.
Major environmental groups like Sierra Club have pushed the Biden administration to target a reduction of at least 50 percent. Hundreds of businesses, including Amazon, Apple, and General Motors, did also.
Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, told the Associated Press that the 50 percent goal “is precisely what is needed ... an actionable goal within the next decade that puts us on the path toward limiting warming below a catastrophic 1.5 degrees Celsius.″ The Paris agreement seeks to stop global average temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, a threshold that scientists project would lead to catastrophic effects.
Some progressive groups called for deeper emissions cuts, citing the US’s history of contributing more to the climate crisis than any other country. “There exists in my mind no possible ethically justifiable story in which the United States does not do more,” said Tom Athanasiou, executive director of the activist think tank EcoEquity, which is part of a network that has called on the US to reduce its emissions by at least 70 percent below 2005 levels this decade.
More countries are expected to ratchet up ambitions this week during Biden’s climate summit. The UK announced on April 20 that it plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 78 percent compared to 1990 levels by the year 2035.
Those commitments couldn’t come any sooner as climate pollution continues to grow. After a temporary drop in planet-warming CO2 emissions during the pandemic, annual emissions this year are on course for the sharpest rise since 2010.
“This is a dire warning that the economic recovery from the Covid crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said in a statement about the new estimate for 2021 emissions. “Unless governments around the world move rapidly to start cutting emissions, we are likely to face an even worse situation in 2022.”