U.S. Climate Target Falls Short of What Science, Justice Demand

WASHINGTON – The new U.S. target for reducing climate-heating emissions 50%-52% by 2030 fails to meet the demands of climate science and environmental and energy justice. While the…

WASHINGTON – The new U.S. target for reducing climate-heating emissions 50%-52% by 2030 fails to meet the demands of climate science and environmental and energy justice.

While the new U.S. target doubles the emissions-reduction commitments made in the country’s 2016 pledge, it falls short of what’s needed to address both the climate emergency and global equity.

“A pledge to cut emissions 50%-52% by 2030 simply isn’t big enough to meet the massive scale of the climate emergency,” said Jean Su, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Energy Justice program. “Solving the climate crisis requires applying both science and equity. The U.S. is the largest historic polluter and one of the wealthiest nations, and it must do its fair share and cut domestic emissions by at least 70% by 2030. Combating the climate emergency at home also requires transforming our economy by moving immediately to end the fossil fuel era and create a renewable and anti-racist energy system that advances justice first.”

A United Nations report released in February showed that current climate commitments would only reduce global emissions 1% by 2030 from 2010 levels. That’s far below the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recommendation that the world must commit to reduce at least 45% of emissions over the same time period to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius—the point at which scientists predict catastrophic, irreversible consequences.

A recent effort led by civil society groups, including the Center, called for the Biden administration to contribute its fair share of global climate action, based on climate science demands and the country’s historical emissions contribution and wealth.

According to the US Climate Action Network and the Climate Equity Reference Project, the U.S. fair share amounts to reducing domestic greenhouse gas emissions 70% below 2005 levels by 2030, with substantial assistance to developing countries to cut their emissions and mitigate climate change harms.

As the world’s largest cumulative greenhouse emitter, largest oil and gas producer, third-largest coal producer and the world’s wealthiest nation, the United States has an obligation to achieve greater-than-average emissions reductions. The United States committed to do so in the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change but has yet to honor that promise.

In addition, the U.S. NDC fails to include foundational climate actions to achieve the needed emissions reductions. Because 86% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil fuels, no climate policy can succeed unless it ends new fossil fuel infrastructure and limits fossil fuel production.

Both the NDC and the Biden administration’s proposed infrastructure plan fail to halt new fossil fuel infrastructure, including destructive oil and gas pipelines across the country. Biden has yet to take action to limit U.S. fossil fuel exports. And while President Biden has implemented a laudable moratorium on new federal oil and gas leasing, he has yet to match the decisive leadership of other countries such as Denmark, which has reached broad agreement to cancel ongoing leasing, ban all future oil and gas licensing, and set a final phase-out date of 2050 for all fossil fuel extraction.

At the same time, while the Biden infrastructure plan does invest in transmission lines and extends renewable energy tax credits, it fails to tackle systemic reform of investor-owned utilities that have lined the pockets of investors while obstructing distributed clean energy systems like rooftop and community solar that boost energy affordability and climate resilience.

The Biden administration is also promoting a clean energy standard that, according to White House climate czar Gina McCarthy, will include carbon capture and storage technology, an unproven technology that prolongs dirty gas extraction and the pollution of communities of color.

“It is not enough that President Biden build back better. Justice requires we build back fossil free,” said Su. “The global response to climate change requires a transformational shift in how our economy and energy systems work. But President Biden’s lackluster plans continue to embrace the false solutions of carbon capture and storage and other market measures that landed us in this emergency to begin with. We need to reject that broken paradigm and instead build a new climate future in a way that combats the country’s inequalities, racism and ecocide.”

Swift executive actions to end fossil fuel extraction and advance a clean and just energy transition are central premises in the progressive Climate President action plan and model executive order, authored by the Center and supported by nearly 750 climate and environmental justice groups.

Ending oil and gas exports is also a core pillar of Build Back Fossil Free—a growing grassroots campaign pushing Biden to take executive action to end the era of fossil fuel production, declare a climate emergency and protect communities reeling from the climate and COVID-19 crises.


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