WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will pledge to cut U.S. greenhouse gas pollution by at least 50% by 2030, an administration official said Wednesday, outlining an aggressive target that would require sweeping changes to America’s energy and transportation sectors.
Biden will announce the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 52% percent, from a baseline of 2005 emissions, at the start of a virtual climate summit he is hosting with 40 other world leaders on Thursday and Friday.
An administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity did not detail how the White House plans to achieve the 50% reduction in emissions.
“We see multiple paths to reaching this goal,” the official said, noting, for example, that Biden has pledged to make the U.S. power sector 100% carbon-pollution free by 2035.
The virtual summit is aimed at renewing America’s leadership on climate change and rallying other world leaders to set their own aggressive targets. Pope Francis and Bill Gates are among the featured speakers.
A second administration official said the White House expects other world leaders to follow Biden’s announcement with their own new commitments for combating climate change.
“We were looking for people to make announcements, to raise their ambition, to indicate next steps that they intend to be taking to help solve the climate problem,” the official said. The summit will stretch over two days and will include sessions on financing, innovation and other topics.
But Biden’s climate change agenda faces obstacles at home and abroad. Republicans have vowed to fight his proposals that shift the U.S. energy sector away from coal and other fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy. Meanwhile, U.S. allies and adversaries have raised questions about whether Biden’s policies will outlast his presidency, given the Trump administration’s rollback of U.S. climate change policies.
A top Chinese government spokesman recently belittled Biden’s return to the Paris climate agreement, which former President Donald Trump jettisoned, and said Trump created a “mess” by unraveling dozens of previous U.S. environmental policies.
“The U.S. chose to come and go as it likes with regard to the Paris Agreement,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said at an April 16 press conference.
“Its return is by no means a glorious comeback but rather the student playing truant getting back to class,” he said, adding that Biden has yet to say “how it plans to make up for the lost four years.”
The White House has pushed back on the questions and skepticism by emphasizing that even as Trump disengaged on climate change, many states and cities across the U.S., along with private companies, continued to adopt climate-friendly policies, the administration official said.
The United States is the second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2), producing about 5.41 billion metric tons in 2018. China emits nearly twice that amount.
Experts say the world’s major economies need to dramatically scale back their carbon emissions to limit the rise of average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. Although the U.S. and other countries are already seeing the impacts of global warming through more extreme weather events, scientists say the effects will become catastrophic and irreversible if the planet’s temperatures exceed the 1.5 degree threshold.
Biden has pledged to be the most aggressive president on climate change, setting a goal of de-carbonizing the U.S. power sector by 2035 and reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. He has already taken several steps to address climate change, such as pausing oil drilling on public lands and halting construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
“The Biden-Harris administration will do more than any in history to meet our climate crisis,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday in a speech previewing this week’s summit. “This is already an all-hands-on-deck effort across our government and across our nation. Our future depends on the choices we make today.”
But Biden’s steps so far, and his promise to do more, have already unleashed a torrent of criticism from Republicans who argue that his climate policies will hurt American businesses, cost U.S. jobs and raise energy prices for families.
In his speech on Monday, Blinken said that climate change should be viewed not only as a threat but also an opportunity – to create new clean-energy jobs, to build a healthier society and to regain a competitive edge against China.
“It’s difficult to imagine the United States winning the long-term strategic competition with China if we cannot lead the renewable energy revolution,” he said. “Right now, we’re falling behind.”
He noted that China holds nearly a third of the world’s renewable energy patents and is the largest producer and exporter of solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles and other innovations.
“If we don’t catch up, America will miss the chance to shape the world’s climate future in a way that reflects our interests and values, and we’ll lose out on countless jobs for the American people,” Blinken said.
Contributing: Ledyard King and Courtney Subramanian, USA TODAY, and Associated Press