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White House plans to almost double Obama’s climate pledge

The White House plans to pledge to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent or more by the end of the decade, according to people familiar with the deliberations, a goal that would nearly double the U.S. previous commitment of the country and would require radical changes in the energy, transport and other sectors.

The emissions reduction target, which is still under development and subject to change, is part of a White House initiative to encourage global action to prevent the average global temperature from rising further of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels, according to people. President Joe Biden’s administration is expected to unveil the target ahead of a climate summit later this month.

Targets under discussion for the U.S. engagement include a range of 48% to 50% greenhouse gas emissions reductions from 2005 levels by 2030, according to a person familiar with the deliberations. Another person said the administration, at the request of environmentalists, was considering an even steeper reduction of 53%. Both asked not to be identified in the description of private communications.

The White House declined to comment on the specific numbers, but an official said the administration was planning a “whole-of-government” approach to the target, with agencies considering opportunities across the federal government for standardization, investment. in clean energy and resilient infrastructure. plans.

By comparison, under former President Barack Obama, the United States pledged to reduce global warming emissions from 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. The signatories of the The 2015 Paris climate agreement is expected to meet again in November in Scotland and commit to cuts until 2030..

The administration is shaping the aggressive goal as it seeks to rebuild trust with wary nations following former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement and the dismantling of national policies essential to drive the cuts in emissions promised by the country.

“Countries around the world are looking to see what the United States will do with this and will there be something both ambitious and credible,” said David Waskow, director of the International Climate Initiative from the World Resources Institute. “Other countries in the international community at large are looking to see how this can take off and continue beyond a particular political moment.”

Halving greenhouse gas emissions in the United States would require broad action to tackle global warming pollution from power plants, automobiles, oil wells and agriculture.

The United States currently derives about 40% of its electricity from nuclear and renewables, but is expected to double its carbon-free power to 80% by 2030 to put the country on track to reduce emissions enough to achieve this new. goal, according to Amanda Levin. , political analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The United States should also aggressively reorient large swathes of the economy towards electricity, especially cars, while improving efficiency and reducing energy waste at all levels. These efforts are essential, but will happen more slowly than the transformation of the electricity sector which is already well underway.

Environmentalists are pressing the White House to include an explicit commitment to a 40% reduction in emissions of methane, a short-lived but particularly powerful greenhouse gas.

Just finding and fixing methane leaks at oil and gas facilities could allow the United States to cut emissions equivalent to taking 140 million gasoline cars off the road, said Sarah Smith of the Clean Air Task Force. .

The United States is on track to meet the Obama-era target, having reduced emissions by 14% below 2005 levels in 2019, according to government data. The reductions were even steeper in 2020 – 23.8% below 2005 levels – but only when quarantines linked to the pandemic led to a dramatic drop in air and road travel.

When the Paris climate agreement was signed, countries pledged to try to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). But researchers now believe a 1.5-degree cap is needed to avert some of the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.

The United States is working to “keep our collective goal of 1.5 degrees of warming on the table, to keep it alive, something we can still achieve,” Presidential Envoy John Kerry said Thursday. for the climate, at a conference on climate justice.

Robust number

A strong goal will help underscore the United States’ commitment to tackling climate change while encouraging vigorous action from other countries, said Rachel Cleetus, director of climate and energy policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“The United States has a lot of ground to catch up, so the first order of business is to put a solid number on the table that can also help catalyze higher ambition,” Cleetus said.

The main environmental groups have joined forces to reduce emissions by 50%. That figure hits the sweet spot by being both ambitious and achievable, said Mark Brownstein, senior vice president of energy at Environmental Defense Fund, who argued for the 50% target in a 32-page report. which he provided to the administration last month.

Tesla Inc vehicles charge at a charging station in San Mateo, California, USA [File: Bloomberg]

“Coming in with a low number just because you know you can do it isn’t leadership if it doesn’t respond to the urgency of the moment, but pushing yourself to respond to the urgency of the moment with a bunch of. soft commitments that no one believes in. you will never reach the moment either, ”said Brownstein.

Environmental activists and analysts have released a series of reports in recent months describing how potential combinations of regulations, clean energy incentives and voluntary action can help halve U.S. emissions by 2030.

Climate summit

The figure is expected to be released by the Biden administration ahead of the April 22-23 climate summit hosted by the White House. The White House has invited the leaders of 40 nations, including some of the biggest polluters and smaller, less wealthy nations who are particularly vulnerable to the changes brought by global warming.

“The entire environmental community has united behind 50%,” Levin said, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “If it’s a range, we want the low end to start at 50%.”

However, a 50% reduction in the United States is behind the promises of the United Kingdom and the European Union, which pledge to reduce 68% and 55% from 1990 emission levels. by 2030, respectively.

It also doesn’t align with what some activists say the United States needs to do, given the country’s long-standing status as the top emitter of greenhouse gases. To contribute its fair share to the global effort, the United States should cut its own emissions by at least 70% by 2030 and pair them with hundreds of billions of dollars in climate finance, Friends recommended Friday. de la Terre, ActionAid USA and others. groups.

A US pledge to halve its emissions would not be enough to put the world on track to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, said Gustavo De Vivero, climate policy analyst at the New Climate Institute, part of Climate Action Tracker. .

To achieve this, the United States will need to reduce its emissions by 57% to 63%, the German group said last month. “If 50% is the highest level of ambition, it is not high enough,” said De Vivero.

(Updates with Kerry’s comments in the 15th paragraph and new recommendations from environmental groups in the fourth paragraph from the bottom.)

-With help from Jessica Shankleman and Jennifer Epstein.




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