New US emissions-reduction target will spur economic growth
As 40 heads of state virtually gathered for the Leaders Summit on Climate convened by President Biden last week, the United States made a bold pledge to halve its emissions by 2030. Not only has this upped the ante for more countries to ramp up their climate goals by the U.N. climate talks in Glasgow in November, it’s also shown that the Biden administration is seriously ambitious about reducing emissions — and plans to do so in a way that creates jobs and pulls the economy out of the COVID-19 crisis.
Biden’s 2030 emissions-reduction pledge nearly doubles the previous 2025 commitment set by the Obama administration and would put the U.S. on the path to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. This pledge is in line with World Resources Institute’s recommendation and our research which shows that this goal is ambitious yet attainable. Attaining this target will bring huge economic benefits — including household savings — and health benefits for Americans.
Getting there will require bold steps across all sectors of the economy, which the Biden-Harris administration has signaled it is prepared to take. This includes making 100 percent of the country’s electricity carbon-free by 2035, setting vehicle emissions standards and retrofitting buildings to ensure they are highly efficient. And it commits to invest in carbon capture, forest restoration and climate-smart agriculture, phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and reduce methane emissions from oil and gas, agriculture and waste.
Many of these shifts are already underway, often simply because they’re cheaper. Most coal-fired power plants in the U.S. are now more expensive to operate than building new solar or wind farms. Renewable energy prices continue to drop, and electric vehicles are increasingly cheaper than gas or diesel vehicles over their lifetime. In fact, a recent WRI report found that 41 U.S. states and the District of Columbia are already growing their economies while reducing their emissions.
Biden’s executive order on climate change in the first week of his presidency laid the groundwork for integrating climate action across all areas of government. An “all-in” strategy that boosts local action already taking place with aggressive federal engagement could achieve the 50 percent reduction goal by 2030 — all while creating millions of good jobs, making our economy more competitive and reducing death and disease from air pollution.
Opponents of meaningful climate action like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dusted off obsolete talking points to claim that Biden’s “costly climate policy” would “kill U.S. jobs and industries.” Apparently he failed to notice that Apple, Ford, GE, GM, Walmart and over 400 other U.S. companies and investors endorsed cutting emissions at least 50 percent by 2030 to “spur a robust economic recovery, create millions of well-paying jobs, and allow the U.S. to ‘build back better’ from the pandemic.”
McConnell might have also missed independent analysis from Moody’s that found Biden’s American Jobs Plan would create more than 2 million additional jobs by the mid-2020s than would otherwise exist. The American Jobs Plan and the United States’ 2030 emissions-reduction goal will bring economic growth at a crucial time for our country — pursuing it will also help us prevent devastating economic impacts in the coming decades.
The costs of inaction are far too high. Last year set a new record of 22 climate and weather disasters in the United States that each cost over $1 billion, for a total economic toll of more than $95 billion; according to new research by SwissRE climate-related disasters could cost the world $23 trillion in 2050. To avoid dangerous and costly impacts, all the world’s nations must deliver ambitious 2030 targets this year. At the Leaders Summit on Climate important progress was made with the United States, Canada and Japan stepping forward with stronger 2030 targets. The U.K. complemented its existing goal to cut emissions 68 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 with a 78 percent cut by 2035. China, which earlier pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2060, said it will begin phasing down coal consumption, while South Korea pledged to halt funding for all overseas coal plants.
Climate leadership isn’t just about cutting emissions. Developed countries also have a responsibility to provide financial support for vulnerable countries to adopt clean energy and build resilience to climate impacts. Yet, major economies have not yet delivered on the goal of mobilizing $100 billion per year in climate finance. At the summit, the U.S. committed to double overseas climate finance to around $5.7 billion per year by 2024. This is an important start after being largely absent the last four years but is insufficient. The U.S. should ramp up its contributions and encourage other developed countries to do so, too.
So, what needs to happen next? On a global level, more countries need to come forward with stronger commitments in the lead up to the Glasgow climate talks in November. In the U.S., Congress must pass the American Jobs Plan so we can jumpstart COVID-19 recovery and crucial climate action while putting Americans back to work.
Helen Mountford is the vice president of Climate and Economics at World Resources Institute, a global research non-profit organization.
Dan Lashof is the director of World Resources, United States.