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Biden Sets Ambitious Goal for Reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2030; Recommits US to Battling Climate Change

April 28, 2021

During the Leaders Summit on Climate, hosted by the Biden-Harris administration on April 22 and 23 in Washington, DC, President Joseph Biden set aggressive goals for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States. On Day 1 of the summit, the president announced that the United States will aim to reduce GHG emissions by 50–52% of 2005 levels by 2030. The president’s plan appears to rely upon many of the components of the administration’s infrastructure plan (the American Jobs Plan) to achieve these reductions, including its previously announced goal of 100% carbon pollution-free electricity in the United States by 2035 (which we reported on earlier this month).

The administration developed the emissions reduction goal through what it describes as a “whole-of-government” approach, with a National Climate Task Force that reviewed technologies, current costs, anticipated future cost reductions, and various policies and multiple pathways for each economic sector of the economy that produces GHGs (the power sector, transportation, buildings, industry, and lands). The administration emphasized that it had consulted with diverse stakeholders, including scientists, government leaders, businesses, unions, and educational institutions in exploring pollution reduction.

The announcement is part of the United States’ rejoining the Paris Agreement, which was one of the first major steps the president took after taking office. Under the agreement, member countries prepare and submit nonbinding “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) that reflect that country’s commitment to reduce GHG emissions in furtherance of the Paris Agreement’s overall goal of holding global average temperature well below 2 degrees centigrade (and preferably below 1.5 degrees). The goal announced by the administration is incorporated in a new NDC submitted to the United Nations.

Notably, the NDC states that “[b]ased on preliminary estimates, the United States is expected to have met and surpassed its 2020 target of net economy-wide emissions reductions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels and is broadly on track to achieve 26-28 percent emissions reductions below 2005 levels in 2025.” The NDC also states that the additional reductions in emissions to achieve the new goal can be achieved through advances in technology and “resulting market responses.” The NDC includes a graphic depiction of the United States emissions and anticipated reductions under the new goal:

Infographic - Datasource Item: US Greenhouse Gas Emissions  

Click to enlarge image

 

The president emphasized that the emissions goal is intended to stimulate the economy by adding jobs for middle class workers. Such jobs include laying transmission lines “for a clean, modern, resilient grid,” capping abandoned wells and reclaiming mines, and expanding carbon capture and green hydrogen for cleaner steel and cement. The president also set several key goals in line with the NDC, including cutting emissions and energy costs by supporting efficiency upgrades and electrification in buildings, reducing carbon pollution from the transportation sector, reducing emissions from forests and agriculture and enhancing carbon sinks, addressing carbon pollution from industrial processes, and investing in innovation to improve and broaden available clean technologies and infrastructure.

On Day 2, the administration outlined a list of additional US commitments and initiatives that it believes will demonstrate United States leadership, mobilize finance, and spur innovation, among other goals. In light of the international nature of the summit, the initiatives had a strong international focus and included the following:

  • Prioritization of climate-related investment at multilateral institutions and organizations
  • Increasing assistance to countries participating in the Renewable Energy for Latin American and the Caribbean initiative, with the goal of increasing renewable energy capacity to at least 70% by 2030
  • Conducting climate exposure assessments on all US military installations and supporting similar assessments internationally

At the summit, the president emphasized that the United States cannot address climate change alone and challenged international partners to do their part, emphasizing that “[given] more than 85 percent of emissions come from beyond U.S. borders, domestic action must go hand in hand with international leadership. All countries – and particularly the major economies – must do more to bend the curve on global emissions so as to keep a 1.5 degree C limit on global average temperature rise within reach.”

While the administration’s goal was welcomed by many summit participants as part of the United States’ return to the international Paris Agreement, the goal-setting did not include clear details as to the extent of emission reductions that are expected to be achieved in different sectors of the US economy. Nor did the administration’s announcement lead to similar commitments from some of the world’s largest emitting nations. In addition, many of the administration’s infrastructure initiatives will require additional funding or congressional action, and therefore a real assessment of the achievability of the administration’s goal will turn on the ability of the administration to execute its domestic legislative agenda.

Before the summit, hundreds of leading companies advocated for the president to set a target of reducing GHG emissions by “at least” 50% of 2005 levels by 2030. These businesses emphasized that such a goal would support US competitiveness and accelerate transition to a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2050. However, some supporters maintain that the lack of detail needs to be addressed if the summit’s positive momentum is to lead to real change.

Morgan Lewis will continue to monitor and report on future developments related to the administration’s climate change agenda and corporate sustainability initiatives.

Contacts

If you have any questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this LawFlash, please contact any of the following Morgan Lewis lawyers:

Philadelphia, PA
Ken Kulak

Washington, DC
Ariel Braunstein