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President Biden opens climate summit pledging to halve US emissions by 2030

Published: Updated:

The Biden administration on Thursday pledged to slash US greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent to 52 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, a new target it hopes will spur other big emitter countries to raise their ambition to combat climate change.

The goal, unveiled at the start of a two-day climate summit hosted by Democratic President Joe Biden, comes as the United States seeks to reclaim global leadership in the fight against global warming after former President Donald Trump withdrew the country from international efforts to cut emissions.

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President Biden opened the summit saying that the United States “isn’t waiting” to lead on an issue of “moral and economic imperative.”

“The cost of inaction keeps mounting. The United States isn’t waiting,” he said in the opening address of the two-day summit being hosted virtually by the White House.

It also marks an important milestone in Biden’s broader plan to decarbonize the US economy entirely by 2050 -- an agenda he says can create millions of good-paying jobs but which many Republicans say they fear will damage the economy.

The emissions cuts are expected to come from power plants, automobiles, and other sectors across the economy, but the White House did not set individual targets for those industries.

“This is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis,” Biden said at the White House.

Just before the summit opened, Japan raised its target for cutting emissions to 46 percent by 2030, responding to US diplomacy and domestic companies and environmentalists, who wanted even higher goals.

The new US target nearly doubles former President Barack Obama’s pledge of an emissions cut of 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Sector-specific goals will be laid out later this year.

How the United States intends to reach its climate goals will be crucial to cementing US credibility on global warming, amid international concerns that America’s commitment to a clean energy economy can shift drastically from one administration to the next.

Biden’s recently introduced $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan contains numerous measures that could deliver some of the emissions cuts needed this decade, including a clean energy standard to achieve net zero emissions in the power sector by 2035 and moves to electrify the vehicle fleet.

But the measures need to be passed by Congress before becoming reality.

Biden focused on restoring US climate leadership during his campaign and in the first days of his presidency after Republican Trump, a climate change skeptic, removed the United States from the Paris agreement on global warming.

‘The US is back’

The new administration has come under heavy pressure from environmental groups, some corporate leaders, the UN secretary general and foreign governments to set a target to cut emissions by at least 50 percent this decade to encourage other countries to set their own ambitious emissions goals.

Biden announced the number at the start of a climate summit on Thursday that is being attended by leaders from the world’s biggest emitters, including China.

World leaders aim to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a threshold scientists say can prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

One of the administration officials said with the new US target, enhanced commitments from Japan and Canada, and prior targets from the European Union and Britain, countries accounting for more than half the world’s economy were now committed to reductions to achieve the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal.

“When we close this summit on Friday, we will unmistakably communicate ... the US is back,” he said.

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