Biden’s Updated Climate Targets Could Set the Stage for Next 10 Years of Climate Policy

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

This week the world is watching the U.S. with rare intensity. The world has awaited multiple decisions with bated breath, but on April 22nd, U.S. climate ambition will be in the spotlight. The President is expected to announce the nation’s updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris agreement during his Climate Leaders Summit, to which 40 world leaders are invited. Kate Larsen, who helped develop President Barack Obama’s climate action plan, says that Biden’s emissions target “is setting the tone for the level of ambition and the pace of emission reductions over the next decade.″

Why This Matters: The United States is the world’s second-largest producer of carbon emissions, and after four years of environmental setbacks, the new President is being urged by the public, environmental organizations, and even other governments to make ambitious choices to make up for lost time. Biden now faces a dilemma: set a hyper-ambitious symbolic target that will increase hope and prove commitment, or one that could be more readily achieved in this political climate.

Even as climate envoy John Kerry makes his international rounds and the President makes big infrastructure promises, this choice will be the one that sets the stage for COP26 in Glasgow this fall as well as his administration’s next four years. 


Climate Change Clubhouse: President Biden’s NDC will not only set the stage for domestic climate action but be a crucial step in repairing international relationships damaged by the previous administration; Larsen calls it “the starting gun for climate diplomacy” after a four-year “hiatus.” 

Experts say that now is the time to make significant commitments to the international community, not only for the sake of the earth but for America’s post-pandemic economic recovery. “If we don’t catch up, America will miss the chance to shape the world’s climate future in a way that reflects our interests and values, and we’ll lose out on countless jobs for the American people,″ said Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Environmentalists are urging Biden to make a significant commitment by 2030. “The number has to start with 5,” said Nathaniel Keohane, vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund. “We’ve done the math. We need at least 50%.″ Cutting emissions by 50% by 2030 to achieve net-zero by 2050 is an ambitious goal, but experts say it is achievable with the right policy. Making a 2030 commitment doesn’t just set a good roadmap for the current administration but every administration for the next 30 years. Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg explained, rather frankly, that 2050 “is a good number for people who give speeches, but I don’t know anyone giving those speeches who’s going to be alive in 2050.″ If Biden wants his climate policy to last, he has to make commitments big enough that future politicians can’t simply cut and run. 

Regardless of this week’s reveal, it’s bound to draw criticism across the aisle. Democrats call for a $10 trillion commitment from the President, while Republicans claim that the U.S. is already taking on more than its fair share of climate action. “We’re always either doing too little or too much,″ said White House Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy, “but rest assured that the President put a (spending) number out here that he felt was not just defensible but required to meet this moment in time.″


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