US seeks to lead on climate while finalizing details on plan
The Biden administration is expected to lay out more details for a domestic road map for how to achieve its climate goals and put more pressure on foreign countries to increase their own commitments in the coming months.
Following its updated commitments under the Paris Agreement, the administration says that more details are on the horizon following the announcement of the goal of cutting emissions at least in half by 2030. Observers say they also expect more countries to make announcements between now and a United Nations summit in November.
The loose outline of the U.S. climate plan leaves the administration with opportunities to work with Congress on details of its implementation while seeking to lead by example on setting emissions targets.
In its formal Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) plan submitted to the U.N., the U.S. government says it sees “multiple paths” to achieve its goal.
“The United States federal and subnational governments have many tools available to work with civil society and the private sector, mobilizing investment to meet these goals while supporting a strong economy,” it said.
The NDC does call for some policies, like reaching 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035, and says it can get there through working with state, local and tribal governments to support the deployment of certain technologies and supporting research and development.
Other policies that it says can contribute to emissions reductions include vehicle emissions and efficiency standards, funding for charging infrastructure, incentives for zero-emissions personal vehicles and funding programs that support energy efficiency and efficient electric heating and cooking appliances in buildings.
In a panel discussion on Monday, Jonathan Pershing, a senior advisor for special climate envoy John Kerry, said that the administration would eventually give more information on “the structure and the detail” of how to achieve its goal.
“How do we think about the structure and the detail of a national plan, that’s coming,” he said. “There’s been a lot of modeling done, there’s an extensive interagency process that’s been convened.”
“This wasn’t the meeting at which to announce it,” Pershing added. “There will be a great deal more detail. There’ll be sectoral information. There will be policy by agency. There’ll be policy in terms of both national programs as well as state programs and those do roll up to be a compelling collective agenda to achieve the target.”
Nathan Hultman, who worked on the NDC during the Obama administration, said these policies could be outlined as they become “more fully crystallized over coming weeks and months” and “as the administration gets a better sense of what’s going to be happening out of Congress” this year and in the future.
He added that one possible place where this could come together is in a biennial report that’s part of a climate treaty.
Hultman said that there might be political, legal and policy reasons for not sharing the government’s exact plans just yet.
“They don’t want to put Congress in a box to say ‘we want you guys to do this’ publicly and then ultimately Congress decides to do something else. That creates some kind of confusion as to what’s in the plan,” he said.
On the international front, the U.S. is expected to try to help other countries find ways where they can step up their commitments and use its updated goals to try to encourage other countries to increase their own.
“The U.S. and many other countries are always in conversation for how they’re thinking about their strategies and their trajectories and I think one of the helpful things that comes out of those discussions … is identifying opportunities,” Hultman said.
Countries that advocates said they’ll have their eyes on include India, which aims to increase its renewable energy generation capacity to 450 gigawatts by 2030 and China, which has said it plans to peak its emissions in 2030 but reduce its coal consumption starting in 2026.
“There are different, kind of, leverage tools that the U.S. has…that can help to encourage other countries to increase their level of commitment to climate change for example … creating a funding mechanism to support India going to 450 gigawatts, ” said Jake Schmidt, senior strategic director for international climate at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
He added that another move the U.S. and other countries could take would be to motivate China through market access.
And, the administration will have a few opportunities for climate diplomacy in the coming months, including at the Group of Seven meeting in June, the Group of 20 meeting in October and the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December.
“One thing to watch for this year, I think, is what are countries who haven’t put forward new targets yet, going to use those international opportunities to announce new targets,” said Alex Hanafi, the Environmental Defense Fund’s director of multilateral climate strategy.