Biden Vows Big Emissions Bite as Climate Summit Kicks Off

The president’s promise to cut emissions up to 52% by 2030 will require the U.S. to fundamentally alter its relationship with fossil fuels.

This screenshot of livestream footage shows President Joe Biden kicking off a two-day climate summit with world leaders on Thursday, calling on the United States and the world to join together and adapt to climate impacts while also working to avoid a greater rise in temperatures. (Image courtesy of the White House via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Ringing in Earth Day, President Joe Biden announced the United States will commit to reducing its carbon emissions by up to 52% by the end of this decade, an ambitious goal that will require the U.S. to fundamentally alter its relationship with fossil fuels.

“The U.S. is setting out to cut greenhouse gases in half by the end of the decade. … No nation can solve this crisis on our own,” President Biden said Thursday in his welcome to the more than 40 leaders attending the virtual two-day White House Climate summit.

Biden’s pledge marks a dramatic shift in America’s approach to climate change from the last administration wherein former President Donald Trump removed the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement in 2017 and took frequent opportunity to deride the matter altogether, calling it everything from a “Chinese hoax” to an excuse for the federal government to raise taxes.

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, however, the climate is changing — growing warmer and far wetter at an accelerated clip — and there is a 95% chance it is because of human activity.

This dynamic requires what the White House says is redoubled effort to tackle one of the world’s most significant and complicated problems, as well as a firm commitment to modernizing the way America thinks about climate change.

In that vein, ahead of Thursday’s summit, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration announced it will soon release conclusions from a new study of its own. The study tracked temperature and precipitation averages from 1991 to 2020, elements key to understanding of not just where humanity has been but where we might be going. Underlining the importance of the study this week, the NOAA noted that experts have been using average precipitation and temperature data in the U.S. that has been outdated for some time and has, until now, failed to fully take climate change effects of the last decade into consideration.

Under former President Barack Obama, the U.S. vowed to cut its carbon emissions by 26% to 28% by 2025, making Biden’s new target of cleaving emissions by over half a considerable swing for the fences.

The White House has said it reached its new goal after consulting with federal agencies, environmental groups, scientists, mayors, tribal leaders, industry leaders, health care organizations, faith groups and others.

“The United States is not waiting, the costs of delay are too great, and our nation is resolved to act now,” the White House said in a statement before Biden’s remarks on Thursday. “Climate change poses an existential threat but responding to this threat offers an opportunity to support good-paying, union jobs, strengthen America’s working communities, protect public health, and advance environmental justice.”

Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Thursday the Biden administration’s tack was welcome because it incorporated both environmental concern and economic understanding.

“President Biden understands that the dire threat of climate change presents us with a remarkable opportunity — if we take action and lead by example with the international community, we can protect our planet and strengthen our nation’s economy today and for future generations to come,” Carper said.

Republicans on Capitol Hill could pose a major thorn in Biden’s side as the administration tries to take up its commitment to reducing greenhouse gases. Senator John Barasso, a Republican who sits on powerful energy committees in Congress, called Biden’s emissions plan “drastic” in a statement Thursday, noting that it would likely hurt the U.S. while letting nations like China — a huge greenhouse gas emitter — off the hook.

The White House issued a fact sheet before the summit, underlining that the U.S. would achieve its goal by relying on the administration’s infrastructure and jobs plan, which involves sweeping “green” job-training initiatives, updates to energy codes for structures across the U.S., boosting fuel-efficiency standards and turning more often to renewable energy. Supporting greater carbon-capture technology and relying on sources of hydrogen produced from nuclear and renewable energy will also be key in reaching the 2030 goal, the White House says.

“When people talk about climate, I think jobs. Within our climate response relies an extraordinary engine for job creation and economic opportunity,” Biden said Thursday.

Yet the administration’s initial plan contains no detail-oriented proposal for how it will actually wrangle fossil fuels across major industries and against major opposition.

The summit will span two days and concludes Friday. It will feature participation by world leaders including China’s President Xi Jinping and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro. Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel will also attend. Leaders from Japan, South Korea, India, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia will also participate.

“We come from very different places but we share this common concern and common threat,” Biden remarked Thursday.

To coordinate efforts on building a global economy more firmly rooted in renewable energy, the president also announced the U.S. would roll out an international climate finance plan.

The White House dubbed the plan an investment into the nation’s own national security since, in part, its aim is to focus on driving new technologies to market that can steady rising emissions, keeping the U.S. competitive.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen joined Biden at the talks Thursday and noted that her department is actively ginning up ideas to spark more private investment in the fight against climate change.

Yellen also vowed the U.S. would get back to investing in the world’s Green Climate Fund, a multibillion dollar international pool of resources established during climate talks in 2014. The goal for the fund was to have at least $100 billion a year flow from advanced economies, like the United States, to less advanced economies with their own emissions goals that need buoying.

“You know our shared goal of mobilizing $100 billion per year in developing countries is critical,” Biden said Thursday, calling it “an investment that’s going to pay significant dividends for all of us.”

“And to help meet that goal, the United States will double its 2024 — by 2024, our annual public climate financing development to developing countries,” Biden said.

Under former President Barack Obama, the U.S. promised to invest $3 billion. It only delivered $1 billion before Trump reneged on the deal altogether.

Biden went into Thursday’s summit after announcing he would invest at least $1.2 billion into the fund, even building that sum into his administration’s 2022 budget. Criticism has been heated over the total with international environmental groups saying the outsized damage the U.S. alone has done to the climate demands more investment.

The International Energy Agency, which puts together estimates on carbon emissions from around the world, reported in 2020 that the U.S. was second only to China in carbon emissions. While China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases currently, historically, it is the U.S. that takes that distinction.

China’s President Xi Jinping vowed during the digital conference to limit Chinese consumption of coal over the next five years and then phase out its use altogether in the same timeframe. He also vowed the nation of 1.4 billion would reduce its carbon emissions to net zero by 2060.

Also garnering attention Thursday was a promise by Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro to stop deforestation in the Amazon no later than 2030 and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2060.

Distrust is high, however, around the leader’s promises.

Bolsonaro has historically embraced anti-climate change rhetoric and brushed away foreign interference into setting climate goals. He has also previously vowed to open indigenous land in Brazil to logging and mining and denied revelations from Brazil’s own National Space Research Institute that showed over 400 square miles of Amazonian rainforest was razed in just 15 days in July 2019.

On Friday, the summit will continue with emissaries from the United States participating in a number of panels including John Kerry, Biden’s senior most climate envoy, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Microsoft founder Bill Gates is also expected to speak to world leaders about investing in technology to curb emissions.

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