Biden Commits the U.S. to Halving Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2030

President Biden will commit the United States to deep cuts in emissions at a virtual Earth Day summit meeting that starts on Thursday, according to people familiar with the plan.,

LiveUpdated April 22, 2021, 8:47 a.m. ETApril 22, 2021, 8:47 a.m. ET

President Biden committed the United States to cutting emissions by half by the end of the decade at a virtual Earth Day summit. Some 40 world leaders, including from China and Russia, are attending the conference.

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President Biden is hosting 40 world leaders in a conference on climate. The event is expected to underscore the urgency and the economic benefits of stronger action to tackle global warming.CreditCredit…Carlo Allegri/Reuters
President Biden intends to use his two-day virtual summit on climate change to demonstrate to the world that the Trump administration's approach to the issue was an aberration.
President Biden intends to use his two-day virtual summit on climate change to demonstrate to the world that the Trump administration’s approach to the issue was an aberration.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

President Biden on Thursday declared America “has resolved to take action” on climate change and called on world leaders to significantly accelerate their own plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or risk a disastrous collective failure to stop catastrophic climate change.

In a show of renewed commitment after four years of the Trump administration’s unvarnished climate denial, Mr. Biden formally pledged that the United States would cut its emissions at least in half from 2005 levels by 2030. Barely three months into Mr. Biden’s presidency, the contrast with his climate-denying predecessor, Donald J. Trump, could not have been more striking.

“The signs are unmistakable, the science is undeniable and the cost of inaction keeps mounting,” Mr. Biden said.

While the summit was billed as an international one, Mr. Biden’s speech was aimed for a domestic audience, focusing not just on America’s obligation to help cut its global emissions but on the jobs he believes are available in greening the U.S. economy.

“The countries that take decisive actions now” to tackle climate change, Mr. Biden said, “will be the ones that reap the clean energy benefits of the boom that’s coming.”

The target of 50 percent to 52 percent by the end of the decade calls for a steep and rapid decline of fossil fuel use in virtually every sector of the American economy and marks the start of what is sure to be a bitter partisan fight over achieving it.

It is also a significant step up from the Obama administration’s pledge of a 25 percent to 28 percent reduction by 2025, and it is meant to signal that Mr. Biden’s decision to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change is just the start of an aggressive effort that will include trying to press other nations forward.

The summit is the first of its kind to be convened by a United States president, and Mr. Biden is joined not only by allies like Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada but also adversaries like President Xi Jinping of China, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil.

Speaking with reporters Wednesday night, one senior administration official said the new target would give the United States significant leverage for pushing other countries to do more and hinted at new target announcements on Thursday from Canada, Argentina and Korea — though not from China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter.

Just before Mr. Biden was set to speak, Japan announced it will cut emissions 46 percent below 2013 levels by the end of the decade, a significant show of solidarity with the United States.

Supporters said the lineup and new announcements after three months of U.S. prodding underscores the unique role that the United States plays in climate negotiations.

Both the world’s largest historic emitter and the largest economy, the United States has long frustrated the climate community by oscillating between action and inaction, yet despite a loss of credibility in some quarters, some say its bully pulpit remains as strong as ever.

“We are still in a period of history in which the United States remains the only nation that can provide effective leadership for the world community,” former Vice President Al Gore said in an interview.

The two-day summit comes at a time when scientists are warning that governments must take decisive action to avoid global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The consequences of exceeding that threshold includes mass species extinctions, water shortages and extreme weather events that will be most devastating to the poorest countries least responsible for causing global warming.

Mr. Biden made the case that with the U.S. representing about 15 percent of global emissions, all countries must step up their ambition. The test will be whether he can galvanize them to do so.

Domestically, Mr. Biden will be hard-pressed to win Republican support for his commitment, and without it, he will face skepticism that his promises will stick any more than President Barack Obama’s did.

“The American people don’t need arbitrary pledges or Democrats’ command-and-control approach that could cripple our economy without addressing the true problem that is global emissions,” Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader, said in a statement.

Officially, nations that are party to the Paris agreement are obligated to announce their new targets for emissions cuts in time for a United Nations conference in Scotland in November.

Climate change activists in New York demonstrated during a global day of action in 2019.
Climate change activists in New York demonstrated during a global day of action in 2019.Credit…Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press

President Biden’s climate summit kicked off on Thursday, Earth Day, and will feature a host of high-profile speakers and attendees, including heads of state and business leaders — and Pope Francis. Here is a breakdown of the biggest names and what the Biden administration is hoping to accomplish.

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris opened the summit at 8 a.m. on with remarks that highlighed the importance of global efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Pope Francis will speak later on Thursday.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and David Malpass, the World Bank president, who has recently expressed support for a net-zero carbon future, will join a morning session on financing climate change solutions. In the afternoon, speakers will highlight climate work on the local level and discuss security challenges posed by global warming.

The summit will resume on Friday with John Kerry, Mr. Biden’s top climate envoy, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel joining a session on the importance of technological innovation in reducing carbon emissions. In a later session on the economic benefits of combating climate change, Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder, will speak as the founder of Breakthrough Energy, an investment fund that supports projects to reduce carbon emissions.

President Xi Jinping of China, the United States’ biggest rival on the world stage, is attending the virtual summit. So is Presidents Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, with whom the Biden administration is trying to negotiate a plan to protect the Amazon rainforest.

A number of prominent American allies will be present, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. Other key attendees include Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan — leaders from whom the Biden administration has been trying to secure commitments on carbon emission reduction targets.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico are also attending. The White House has invited more than 40 world leaders in total.

Mr. Biden announced that the United States intended to cut planet-warming emissions in half by the end of the decade, a target that will require Americans to transform the way they drive, heat their homes and manufacture goods.

The new American goal nearly doubles the pledge made by the Obama administration, and the Biden administration hopes the announcement will galvanize other nations to increase their own targets.

Steam billowing from a coal plant in Utah in 2019. The International Energy Agency said on Tuesday that coal demand was set to soar this year.
Steam billowing from a coal plant in Utah in 2019. The International Energy Agency said on Tuesday that coal demand was set to soar this year. Credit…Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

One of the most dissected speeches at the virtual climate summit hosted by President Biden on Thursday and Friday will be the one by his counterpart from China, Xi Jinping.

That is because China is currently the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions and the biggest consumer of the single-biggest source of emissions: coal.

China continues to build new coal plants at home and abroad, part of a global trend that threatens to undermine the world’s chances of slowing down climate change.

Rest of the World

+80 gigawatts of coal power

China continues to build more new coal power plants than it retires. In 2020, it added more coal capacity than was retired worldwide.

New coal capacity

Outside of China, countries adding the most new coal power capacity include India, Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Coal plant retirements are largely happening in the United States and Europe.

Retirements

Rest of the World

China continues to build more new coal power plants than it retires. In 2020, it added more coal capacity than was retired worldwide.

+80 gigawatts of coal power

New coal capacity

Outside of China, countries adding the most new coal power capacity include India, Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Coal plant retirements are largely happening in the United States and Europe.

Retirements

Rest of the World

China continues to build more new coal power plants than it retires. In 2020, it added more coal capacity than was retired worldwide.

+80 gigawatts of coal power

Outside of China, countries adding the most new coal power capacity include India, Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam.

New coal capacity

Coal plant retirements are largely happening in the United States and Europe.

Retirements

+80 gigawatts of coal power

China continues to build more new coal power plants than it retires. In 2020, it added more coal capacity than was retired worldwide.

New coal capacity

Retirements

Rest of the World

+80 gigawatts of coal power

Outside of China, countries adding the most new coal power capacity include India, Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Coal plant retirements are largely happening in the United States and Europe.

China continues to build more new coal power plants than it retires. In 2020, it added more coal capacity than was retired worldwide.

+80 gigawatts of coal power

New coal capacity

Retirements

Rest of the World

+80 gigawatts of coal power

Outside of China, countries adding the most new coal power capacity include India, Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Coal plant retirements are largely happening in the United States and Europe.

China continues to build more new coal power plants than it retires. In 2020, it added more coal capacity than was retired worldwide.

+80 gigawatts of coal power

New coal capacity

Retirements

Rest of the World

+80 gigawatts of coal power

Outside of China, countries adding the most new coal power capacity include India, Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Coal plant retirements are largely happening in the United States and Europe.

Rest of the World

China continues to build more new coal power plants than it retires. In 2020, it added more coal capacity than was retired worldwide.

+80 gigawatts of coal power

Outside of China, countries adding the most new coal power capacity include India, Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam.

New coal capacity

Coal plant retirements are largely happening in the United States and Europe.

Retirements

In 2020, China added more coal capacity than the rest of the world retired. India and Southeast Asia are also expanding their coal fleets, though neither as fast as they were a few years ago.

The International Energy Agency said on Tuesday that coal demand was set to soar this year. That’s bad for air pollution in the areas where coal is burned and mined. It also makes it harder to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030.

The agency’s chief, Fatih Birol, called those findings “a dire warning.”

Alok Sharma is the president of the next round of international climate talks, which are formally known as the Conference of the Parties, or COP26.
Alok Sharma is the president of the next round of international climate talks, which are formally known as the Conference of the Parties, or COP26.Credit…Alain Jocard/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Alok Sharma, the British politician in charge of organizing crucial international climate negotiations later this year, said he would look for two important signals from the White House summit on climate change: how many countries promise to raise climate ambition by 2030, and how much money is put on the table to address climate change.

But Mr. Sharma, who is responsible for rallying countries to raise their climate ambitions, also sought to temper expectations. The White House event is one of several meetings of world leaders to be held before the international talks, formally known as the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties, or COP26, scheduled for Glasgow in November.

“I want to see we are making appreciable progress on the road to COP26,” Mr. Sharma, the president of the gathering, which is run by the United Nations, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “There will be other junctures.”

He declined to speak about any specific emission-reduction targets that the White House is expected to announce but said he was “encouraged” by his conversations with John Kerry, the U.S. special envoy for climate change. He said he was eager to hear China’s plans, noting that other countries in Asia, notably Japan and South Korea, had already announced that they expected to draw down emissions to net zero by 2050, a full 10 years before China.

“You’re seeing movement in the region. I hope that will encourage all big economies to follow suit,” he said. “China is the biggest emitter, and we want them to work together with us to tackle climate change.”

Mr. Sharma defended his decision to convene that conference in person. Some critics have objected to such a gathering when many people in poorer countries lack access to vaccines against the coronavirus. The conference, originally planned for November 2020, has already been postponed once, he said, adding that the nitty-gritty of negotiations is best done in person, not virtually.

“We need to get on,” he said. “We need to have this conference in November. That’s what we are planning for.”

Americans still buy roughly 17 million gasoline-burning vehicles each year. Each of those cars and light trucks can be expected to stick around for 10 or 20 years as they are sold and resold in used car markets. And even after that, the United States exports hundreds of thousands of older used cars annually to countries such as Mexico or Iraq, where the vehicles can last even longer with repeated repairs.

Cutting emissions from transportation, which accounts for nearly one-third of America’s greenhouse gas emissions, will be a difficult, painstaking task. President Biden has set a goal of bringing down the nation’s emissions to net zero by 2050. Doing so is likely to require replacing virtually all gasoline-powered cars and trucks with cleaner electric vehicles charged largely by low-carbon power sources such as sun, wind or nuclear plants.

Here is a deeper look at how far away that goal remains.

A demonstrator against the Myanmar military coup  protested near a barricade in Mandalay last month.
A demonstrator against the Myanmar military coup protested near a barricade in Mandalay last month.Credit…Reuters

The Myanmar military’s coup and brutal crackdown on dissent have left it with few allies in the West. But a sophisticated corporate lobbying operation in Washington is trying to persuade the Biden administration not to impose broad sanctions against a state-owned oil and gas company helping to finance the junta.

Chevron, the second-largest oil and gas producer in the United States, has sent lobbyists — including some former federal officials, one of whom appears to have left the State Department just last month — to the State Department, other agencies and congressional offices, according to four people familiar with the lobbying.

The company says sanctions could endanger the long-term viability of a big Myanmar gas field in which it is a partner, worsen a humanitarian crisis for people who rely on the operation for power, and expose employees to criminal charges.

Chevron has a longstanding relationship with Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, or MOGE, which is closely connected to the military generals who seized power from elected leaders on Feb. 1. Since then, the military has killed an estimated 740 citizens of Myanmar and detained thousands more.

Democrats, diplomats and human rights activists are pressing the Biden administration to impose sanctions on MOGE, which a United Nations human rights investigator told Congress last month “is now effectively controlled by a murderous criminal enterprise.”

Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama, said that if Democrats were going to allow earmarks, Republicans should be open to doing the same.
Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama, said that if Democrats were going to allow earmarks, Republicans should be open to doing the same.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Under President Donald J. Trump, Republicans had largely abandoned their zeal for austerity and endorsed a series of spending increases. But with a Democratic president in the White House, Senate Republicans are trying to reclaim the mantle of fiscal conservatism by adopting multiple symbolic resolutions aimed at curbing federal spending.

In an internal party vote on Wednesday, the Senate Republican Conference agreed that limitations on the government’s ability to borrow should be paired with either spending cuts or reductions of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. In 2019, lawmakers had agreed to suspend the statutory debt ceiling for two years without either caveat, with support from the Trump administration.

Senate Republicans also affirmed an existing, decade-old ban on earmarks, even as the House is poised to revived the practice of allowing individual lawmakers to direct spending to specific projects for their districts and states in legislation. House Republicans last month voted to overturn a similar ban in their conference, as Democrats have said they plan to bring back earmarks with strict new transparency requirements.

The rules that govern the Republican conference are nonbinding and largely symbolic, but they are an indication of Republican priorities.

“I certainly hope that every member of the Republican conference complies with what the conference rules say,” said Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas.

The measures could lead to clashes with Democrats over President Biden’s infrastructure plan, the government’s ability to continue borrowing money and the dozen annual spending bills. The debt limit is another example: If Republicans stick to their rule, it could lead to an impasse over federal borrowing that could force the government to default on its debt obligations.

Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, told reporters that the debt ceiling resolution, put forward by Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, was “aspirational.”

The loss of earmarks is seen by many as a factor behind the gridlock that has plagued Congress. They came to be seen as a symbol of self-dealing and waste in government and grew increasingly toxic as a wave of self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives washed into Congress. But the practice of allowing lawmakers to set aside funding in huge government funding bills for individual projects in their communities gives them the chance to reflect the needs of their constituents and a mechanism for leaders to finesse tough votes on legislation.

“If you don’t want an earmark, don’t ask for one,” said Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee. “And even if you ask for one, you might not get one because the old earmark days — they’re gone.”

Early evidence suggests that a Trump-era tax incentive has thus far mostly fueled real estate development in areas like parts of Brooklyn that were already becoming richer and whiter.
Early evidence suggests that a Trump-era tax incentive has thus far mostly fueled real estate development in areas like parts of Brooklyn that were already becoming richer and whiter.Credit…Stefano Ukmar for The New York Times

The Biden administration is weighing how to overhaul a Trump-era tax incentive that was pitched as a way to drive investment to economically depressed swaths of the country but which early evidence suggests has primarily fueled real estate development in areas that were already becoming richer and whiter.

The so-called opportunity zone program, a creation of President Donald J. Trump’s 2017 tax law that Mr. Biden vowed on the campaign trail to reform, gives tax breaks to certain investors who pour money into designated areas.

Mr. Trump claimed the zones were pulling large amounts of investment into impoverished neighborhoods, particularly Black ones. But the most comprehensive study of investment in the zones to date — released last week by a pair of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, who were granted access to anonymous tax returns filed electronically — contradicts that assessment.

The study suggests that in 2019, of the 8,000 census tracts designated by state officials as opportunity zones using criteria set under the Trump administration, only about 16 percent received any investment at all. Rural areas received almost none.

Vanita Gupta was the head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration.
Vanita Gupta was the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

The Senate voted to confirm Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general on Wednesday, making her the first civil rights lawyer or woman of color to serve as the Justice Department’s No. 3 official.

Ms. Gupta will oversee the department’s vast civil division, which is tasked with defending the Biden administration in court, as well as its antitrust, tax, and environment and natural resources divisions. She will also oversee the Civil Rights Division, which she once led, at a time when the Biden administration has vowed to use every tool at its disposal to combat systemic racism.

Ms. Gupta was confirmed 51 to 49, largely along party lines. Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, broke with her party after groups representing Alaska Native women, survivors of domestic violence and other communities said they supported Ms. Gupta’s nomination.

“I was impressed not only with her passion that she carries but the work that she performs,” Ms. Murkowski said on the Senate floor. She added that, while some of Ms. Gupta’s previous public statements troubled her, she would “give the benefit of the doubt to a woman who I believe has demonstrated through her professional career to be committed to matters of political justice.”

Once Ms. Gupta is sworn in this week, the Justice Department’s top three officials will be in place. Lisa O. Monaco was sworn in on Wednesday as deputy attorney general, a day after the Senate confirmed her.

Ms. Gupta, 46, rose to national prominence soon after she graduated from New York University’s School of Law in 2001. She began working at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where she investigated a series of arrests and drug-related convictions of dozens of men, almost all of them Black, in Tulia, Texas.

Ms. Gupta proved that the drug charges had been fabricated by a narcotics agent named Tom Coleman, who was found guilty of perjury. In 2003, Rick Perry, then the governor of Texas, pardoned 35 people as a result of that case.

As a staff lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, Ms. Gupta built bridges with police departments and human rights groups as part of her efforts to overhaul the criminal justice system.

Conservative stalwarts involved in criminal justice reform, like Koch Industries and Grover Norquist, joined progressive groups in supporting Ms. Gupta’s confirmation. So did more than a dozen law enforcement organizations, including the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Nevertheless, Republicans largely declined to vote for her. Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said on the Senate floor that the lack of support was a result “of her radical record far outside the mainstream and her career as a partisan activist.”

Even though Ms. Gupta has repeatedly said she does not support defunding the police, Mr. Cornyn insisted that she did, echoing an opposition ad created by a conservative legal group.

Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that as head of the Civil Rights Division in the final years of the Obama administration, Ms. Gupta had served the Justice Department “with class,” and that she was “a person of integrity and honesty and dedication to public service.”

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