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Why the new US carbon emissions target isn't good enough

President Joe Biden has pledged to cut US carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. But it still might not be enough to stop catastrophic climate change

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate,
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, (Bloomberg)

On 22 April, US president Joe Biden did what everyone expected him to do: announce a relatively ambitious climate goal for 2030. The announcement that the US will slash its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50-52% by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels) achieves two important aims. First, it signals a complete policy volte-face from the previous Donald Trump administration’s climate denial and, second, this updates the previous emissions target set under the Barack Obama administration. The earlier US target from 2015 had aimed to reduce national emissions by at least 26% by 2025.

Also Read: Global emissions cuts need to be ten times higher to stop climate change

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In the context of the existing US nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement, a 25% emissions cut by 2025 would have translated to a 38% cut by 2030. The new pledge then represents a 12-14% increase. Right now, the US isn’t on course to meet either the old pledge nor the new. Although the specifics are yet to be announced, the Biden administration has indicated that it aims to meet this target with the help of a mooted $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, which would help the US turn decisively towards clean energy from fossil fuels. Biden has said that US would have a carbon-free power grid by 2035 and be carbon neutral by 2050.To reach these goals would require a tremendous effort on the part of the US over the next nine years.

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However, this new pledge is not in line with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 above pre-industrial levels. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to meet the 1.5 degree target, global emissions have to be cut to nearly half by 2030 and brought to zero by 2050. To achieve this, according to the climate network ActionAidUSA, the US should be aiming to slash its emissions by close to 70% by 2030. As the world’s biggest historical carbon emitter and currently the world’s second largest emitter, the US clearly needs to do more. The country is ranked 11th with regards to per capita emissions. For comparison, although India is currently the world’s third largest emitter behind China and the US, it ranks 158th in terms of per capita emissions.

Also Read: When can India reach net-zero emissions?

At the global summit of 40 world leaders where US made its pledge, PM Narendra Modi didn’t indicate any willingness to up India’s emissions ambitions beyond its 2015 NDC. However, it is fairly certain that international pressure will grow on India to put forward an improved pledge before the year is out. China announced last year that it aims to achieve peak emissions by 2030 and go carbon neutral by 2060. At the summit on 22 April, China’s PM Xi Jinping announced that the country aims to phase out coal by 2030. China's goals aren't quite good enough either. Much still remains to be done this year, as the global climate change conversation builds towards a key climate summit in Glasgow, UK in November.

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The fact that the world is behind the curve to halt global warming was brought home by the International Energy Agency's (IEA) recent Global Energy Review 2021. According to this report, global emissions are set to rise by 5% in 2021, the highest since 2010, as countries rally behind fossil fuels to bounce back from the economic devastation caused by covid-19. Time is running out for the world to meet the 2030 target to limit global warming, and the decade has already gotten off to a bad start. According to the international climate science and policy consortium Climate Action Tracker, the current global pledges would result in the world warming by 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. That is clearly not acceptable.

Listen to the Mint Climate Change Tracker podcast hosted by Bibek Bhattacharya

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