Biden to Propose Cutting U.S. Emissions in Half by 2030

Source: By Timothy Puko and Sha Hua, Wall Street Journal • Posted: Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Administration is looking to assert U.S. leadership on climate policy amid tensions with China

A coal-fired power plant. Emissions in the U.S. are rising as the economy recovers. Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON—President Biden is expected this week to call for cutting U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions roughly in half by 2030, according to people familiar with the matter, as he pushes to jump-start global efforts to tackle climate change.

Mr. Biden will release the new goal during a summit at the White House on Thursday and Friday, part of an effort to assert global leadership on climate issues amid tensions with China. The new target seeks to reduce over the next nine years emissions by 50% from levels in 2005. Emissions last year were already projected to be down 21% from that 2005 baseline, due in part to a slowdown related to the pandemic. But this year, emissions are tracking higher again as the economy recovers.

Mr. Biden has invited 40 world leaders to the event, a group that comprises European allies and some autocrats from U.S. rivals that are among the world’s biggest emitters and fossil-fuel producers, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. The White House has noted that invitees include 17 countries responsible for about 80% of all global emissions, an effort to supercharge ambitions going into negotiations scheduled for November to raise targets for reducing emissions.

Some developing countries are expected to use the summit to urge wealthier nations to help finance efforts to reduce emissions and to adapt to the effects of a warming planet. Brazil has asked the Biden administration for $1 billion in exchange for it reducing deforestation by 40%. India, meantime, has also stressed to the U.S. the importance of industrialized countries making good on pledges to mobilize as much as $100 billion a year in support of similar efforts.

Mr. Biden is facing pressure to convince other nations and his Republican opponents at home that he can get China to commit to more ambitious efforts to slash emissions.

“Unless China stops its uninhibited growth of emissions, anything we do will be offset fourfold by the Chinese,” said Rep. Garret Graves (R., La.), the top Republican on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

The Biden administration seeks to show the U.S. is committed to lowering emissions after President Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris climate agreement. The new target will likely be seen by other nations and environmental groups as ambitious, said advocates, some of whom had briefed the White House in recent weeks on data arguing that the 50% target is achievable.

“That’s the kind of number that they’re going to need to be credible in the international community,” said Heather Zichal, chief executive of the American Clean Power Association, a trade group, who was a top climate adviser to President Barack Obama.

A White House official declined to comment on the target on Tuesday night, adding that it had not been completed.

Mr. Biden’s emissions target is certain to face criticism from GOP lawmakers and some in the business community who worry that the administration’s climate policies could harm the economy. Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas) criticized the Paris agreement this week, arguing it “disproportionately penalizes American workers.”

Other businesses will loudly support Mr. Biden’s move. More than 300 of them—including U.S. giants Apple Inc., Johnson & Johnson andWalmart Inc. —signed an open letter last week to Mr. Biden saying a 50% cut is the least he should adopt.

John Kerry, the Biden administration’s special envoy on climate change, met with Chinese officials in Shanghai last week in a bid to restart bilateral climate discussions between the two nations. Following the meeting, the U.S. and China said in a joint statement that they would work together to set more ambitious goals to tackle climate change. Mr. Kerry told reporters that the two sides discussed the possibility of China enhancing the commitments. Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged last September that China would reach peak carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality—net-zero carbon-dioxide emissions—by 2060.

Mr. Kerry said in an interview last week that China’s pledge to achieve net-zero carbon-dioxide emissions by 2060 isn’t fast enough, and he prodded the country to go further.

“We need to see net-zero commitments, but more than net-zero commitments, a 30-year-out commitment is terrific, but it’s not enough,” he said. “We need to start reducing significantly now. That’s what the science tells us. So 2020 to 2030 is a critical time period.”

Climate advocates hope Mr. Xi will use the summit to unveil more ambitious efforts to reduce emissions by moving the target date for peak emissions earlier, establishing an absolute cap on emissions or issuing a moratorium or limit on coal. But it is unclear whether Mr. Xi will announce new climate goals in a possible repeat of his 2014 joint climate pledge with Mr. Obama, which helped pave the way for the Paris agreement.

Because emissions are global, Mr. Biden must galvanize international cooperation to fulfill his campaign promises to address climate change, and that involves convincing other countries that the U.S., long a leading emitter, is serious about its own efforts.

“To be credible with other countries, they have to see a plausible story on how the Americans get to that kind of reduction, especially after four years of nonaction,” said Jonathan Elkind, a Biden transition team member who led international and climate efforts at the Energy Department during the Obama administration.

Global emissions are climbing again as economies reopen. The International Energy Agency, in a report published Tuesday, said emissions are expected to jump 4.8% this year, the biggest annual gain since 2010’s record-setting increase, when the world was bouncing back from the global economic crisis.

The emissions increase is expected to be driven by developing countries like China, which continue to rely heavily on coal. China alone will account for more than 50% of 2021’s new coal use, the IEA said.

After the Paris accords, even some of the most aggressive advocates of the deal, such as the European Union and Canada, found it difficult to fulfill their ambitions. China’s continued dependence on coal became a global concern. Its carbon emissions have accelerated in the years since the deal, climbing to 9.8 billion tons a year in 2019, from 9.2 billion tons in 2015, while the country keeps proposing more coal-fired power—73.5 gigawatts just last year, more than five times as much as the rest of the world combined.

Write to Timothy Puko at tim.puko@wsj.com and Sha Hua at sha.hua@wsj.com