DC set for jam-packed Earth Day as Biden announces Paris emissions goal

DC set for jam-packed Earth Day as Biden announces Paris emissions goal
© Getty Images

Earth Day this year finds Washington jam-packed with environmental events as the White House prepares both to host an international climate summit and announce its Paris Agreement target of halving U.S. emissions by 2030, all while world-famous activist Greta Thunberg appears on Capitol Hill.

President BidenJoe BidenKinzinger, Gaetz get in back-and-forth on Twitter over Cheney vote Cheney in defiant floor speech: Trump on 'crusade to undermine our democracy' US officials testify on domestic terrorism in wake of Capitol attack MORE will announce that he aims to slash the country's greenhouse gas emissions by between 50 and 52 percent compared to 2005 levels in less than a decade, on the way to his larger goal of eventually reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

The goal is expected to guide domestic climate policy for years to come.


Its announcement comes on the 51st Earth Day celebration, as scientists voice increasing levels of alarm about climate change and how it's already impacting the planet following a year that included a barrage of natural disasters.

The move sends a signal to international partners about the level of U.S. commitment to fighting climate change as Biden prepares to host a two-day virtual summit on the issue.

All 40 heads of state invited to the White House’s summit, including Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinREAD: Liz Cheney's speech on the House floor Scarborough, Greenwald trade insults on Twitter over rise of Trump Congress may force Biden to stop Russia's Nord Stream 2 pipeline MORE and Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend, an administration official told reporters on Wednesday.

Also slated to attend are India's Narendra Modi, Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro, Japan's Yoshihide Suga, Germany's Angela Merkel and Pope FrancisPope FrancisPriests across Germany bless gay couples in break from Pope The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Upbeat jobs data, relaxed COVID-19 restrictions offer rosier US picture Pope Francis denounces 'aggressive' nationalism MORE.

According to a schedule released by the State Department, the summit’s first day will start with a session titled “Raising Our Climate Ambition,” which will be opened by Biden and Vice President Harris.

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenBlinken speaks with Israeli counterpart amid escalating conflict Biden sent letter to Palestinian president over 'current situations' Asian American lawmakers say State's 'assignment restrictions' discriminate MORE, special presidential envoy for climate John KerryJohn KerryChina emitted more greenhouse gasses than US, developed world combined in 2019: analysis Overnight Energy: Republicans request documents on Kerry's security clearance process| EPA official directs agency to ramp up enforcement in overburdened communities | Meet Flint prosecutor Kym Worthy Republicans request documents on Kerry's security clearance process MORE and multiple heads of state including Putin, Xi and more are listed as participants in the session.


It will be followed by one called “Investing in Climate Solutions” featuring Kerry, Treasury Secretary Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenThe Biden administration's domestic approach to foreign policy The Fed does a quiet about-face on inflation Treasury opens applications for 0 billion state and local aid program MORE, National Economic Council Director Brian DeeseBrian DeeseOn The Money: Breaking down Biden's .8T American Families Plan | Powell voices confidence in Fed's handle on inflation | Wall Street basks in 'Biden boom' Biden proposes tax hikes for high-income Americans Democratic scramble complicates Biden's human infrastructure plan MORE and leaders including New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, as well as the CEOs of banks including Bank of America and Citigroup.

Thursday’s portion of the summit will also feature breakout sessions titled “Adaptation and Resilience,” “Climate Action at All Levels,” “Climate Security” and “Nature-based Solutions" and include appearances from Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackTom VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael ReganMichael ReganEPA waives air quality gasoline regulation in 3 states, DC after pipeline hack Overnight Energy: EPA takes major step to battle climate change Carper asks EPA to require half of new cars to be zero-emissions by 2030 MORE, Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: Former Pentagon chief to testify about Capitol riot Wednesday | Senate Intelligence chairman wants Biden to review US Space Command move Senate Intelligence chairman wants Biden to review US Space Command move The best defense? An alternative to all-out war or nothing MORE and Interior Secretary Deb HaalandDeb HaalandCarter sworn in as House member to replace Richmond, padding Democrats' majority Biden administration approves major offshore wind project OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden officials unveil plan to conserve 30 percent of US lands and water | Watchdog questions adequacy of EPA standards for carcinogenic chemical emissions | Interior proposing revocation of Trump-era rollback on bird protections MORE.

Friday's sessions will focus on climate innovation and economic opportunities.

But given its importance to national climate policy going forward, outside observers will give much of their attention to the emissions target.

A number of businesses, environmental groups and European leaders had called on the U.S. to reduce its emissions by half by 2030, though some progressive organizations have sought a reduction of at least 70 percent.

Either way, the announcement marks a major shift from the Trump administration, which pulled the country out of the Paris Agreement, arguing that it was burdensome for business and workers.

Unlike his predecessor, who has referred to climate change as a "hoax," Biden has said that it's among the major crises he hopes to address during his presidency.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Thunberg will testify at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing titled "The Role of Fossil Fuel Subsidies in Preventing Action on the Climate Crisis.”

Thunberg, who first rose to prominence by striking from school to bring awareness to the issue, has become a leading figure in the climate movement.

Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaHouse conservatives take aim at Schumer-led bipartisan China bill Medical supplies arriving in India amid surge in COVID-19 infections Overnight Health Care: US to share millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses with other countries | Biden speaks with Prime Minister Modi as COVID-19 surges in India MORE (D-Calif.), chair of the panel’s subcommittee on the environment, said in a statement to The Hill that the hearing will outline goals of repealing deductions for certain costs related to drilling and getting rid of their ability to take other business practices to receive tax benefits.

“We appreciate that President Biden ran on ending fossil fuel subsidies. But the details matter. Exactly four months into this administration, progressives are looking for tangible and specific commitments from the Administration to follow through on its own platform,” Khanna said.

Earth Day will also be marked with demonstrations from outside groups, with Washingtonian reporting that activists with environmental group Extinction Rebellion DC say they will pile "heaps of cow shit” outside the White House “in response to Biden’s bullshit climate plan."


Activists with various groups are also expected to bring a "climate clock" to D.C. to highlight the urgency. 

As the world continues to confront the coronavirus pandemic, many in the District and around the world will be celebrating Earth Day online rather than in person.

Over the past few days, including Thursday, EarthDay.org has held virtual events featuring administration officials, activists and celebrities including Kristen Bell.

The week has already seen numerous other climate-related events, including one from House Republicans highlighting their priorities and the reintroduction of the Green New Deal resolution by Democrats.