President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the US would cut carbon emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030 compared with 2005 levels. It’s an aggressive target that aims to put the country on a path to limit warming to below 1.5˚C.
The pledge comes as Biden hosts dozens of world leaders for a virtual climate summit today. It nearly doubles the targets set by former President Barack Obama when the Paris Agreement was initially signed.
“This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative. A moment of peril but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities,” Biden said.
The US reduced its carbon emissions to 13 percent below 2005 levels in 2019, the most recent “normal” year for energy use. While the number represents a notable decline given that the economy grew in that time, it’s still short of where the country should be if it is to achieve either Obama’s or Biden’s goals.
The US isn’t the only country that has come up short in terms of actual reductions. The world as a whole is far from meeting the goals set forth in the Paris Agreement. We’re currently on track for 3˚C of warming by 2100, an amount that would result in catastrophic consequences for people around the globe.
Emissions targets pledged as part of the Paris Agreement aren’t binding, but they do offer roadmaps for countries to decarbonize. The agreement also encourages countries to make their pledges more ambitious over time, with the hopes that emissions will decline more rapidly as technological advancements and diplomatic pressure make significant reductions more appealing.
Other leaders used the forum to announce new commitments as well. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan said his country would aim for a reduction of 46 percent below 2013 levels, almost double its previous commitment. Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, increased his country’s pledge to 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, a bump above the previous 30 percent commitment. The European Union and the UK didn’t update their pledges, but both have already committed to major cuts over the next nine years, with the EU targeting 55 percent and the UK shooting for 68 percent.
China’s Xi Jinping also reiterated his country’s previous commitment to halt the growth of emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2060. China’s carbon pollution has grown precipitously over the last 20 years, to the point where the country now produces more than twice as much as the next largest polluter, the US. India, another country with swiftly rising emissions, did not put forth any targets, nor did it add to its previous commitments. Instead, Prime Minister Narendra Modi restated his country’s promise to install 450 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030.
Globally, carbon emissions dropped 6.4 percent last year as the world hunkered down to weather the pandemic. The US contributed the most to that decline with a 13 percent drop, and most of that happened in the transportation sector, which produces the largest share of the nation’s carbon pollution. Globally, the decline in air travel allowed the aviation sector to halve its emissions.
The Biden administration again signaled that it’s considering a “border carbon adjustment”—basically a carbon tariff. Such a tariff would apply to imports from countries where carbon regulations aren’t as stringent.
For many countries, the energy transition has become less of a burden and more of an opportunity to leapfrog laggards by developing early leads in a host of promising and increasingly affordable clean technologies, including solar, wind, and batteries. Biden appears to agree with that idea and is hoping to position the US among countries taking the lead. “The countries that take decisive action now to create the industries of the future will be the ones who reap the economic benefits of the clean energy boom that’s coming,” he said.