The target, announced Thursday, more than doubles the country’s prior commitment under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, when the Obama administration set out to cut emissions 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. The U.S. is currently not yet halfway to meeting that goal.
Biden’s pledge on Earth Day is in line with what environmental groups and hundreds of executives at major companies have pushed for. The president will announce the target at the closely watched global leaders’ climate summit on Thursday and Friday, during which he hopes to urge global cooperation to address the climate crisis.
“This is the decisive decade,” Biden said at the summit on Thursday morning. “This is the decade that we must make decisions to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis.”
“This is a moral imperative. An economic imperative. A moment of peril, but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities,” the president said.
All 40 world leaders the president invited to the virtual summit will be attending, including those from China and India, and are anticipated to make new commitments. The U.K. and European Union have committed to slash emissions by 68% and 55%, respectively, by 2030. China, the world’s biggest emitter, has vowed to reach peak emissions by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2060.
The summit is a chance for the U.S. to rejoin global efforts on climate after then-President Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris accord, halted all federal efforts to reduce domestic emissions and rolled back more than 100 environmental regulations to favor fossil fuel production.
Biden so far has proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure package that would aid a transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy, while promising to create green jobs. If passed, the legislation would be one of the largest federal efforts ever to reduce emissions.
“A strong national emissions reduction target is just what we need to catalyze a net-zero emissions future and build back a more equitable and inclusive economy,” Anne Kelly, vice president of government relations at sustainability nonprofit Ceres, said in a statement.
In order to achieve a net-zero economy by 2050, the U.S. must curb emissions by 57% to 63% in the next decade, according to an analysis by Climate Action Tracker, an independent group that analyzes various government climate pledges.
This week’s summit also comes ahead of a major U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, during which nations in the Paris agreement will unveil updated emissions targets for the next decade.
Under the accord, countries are trying to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with preindustrial levels.
However, the Earth is on track to warm up by 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, in the next two decades. And it could see temperatures rise over 3 degrees Celsius, or 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit, this century without global action.
Flavio Lehner, a climate scientist and assistant professor of earth and atmospheric science at Cornell University, said that while it’s ambitious, Biden’s pledge is likely not enough to reach targets under the Paris accord. Global temperature rise also depends largely on what other countries pledge in the next decade.
“Many climate impacts scale almost linearly with warming, so reducing emissions as fast as possible has to remain a key sustained motivation for this and future administrations, irrespective of a particular warming target,” Lehner said.