President Joe Biden signaled his administration’s intention to set aside four years of scatterbrained, retrograde national policy by formally pledging the U.S. to reducing its carbon emissions by at least half (of 2005 levels) over the next decade. During the opening of a two-day climate summit of world leaders, called on and virtually hosted by the White House, Biden framed the issue not just as a moral obligation, but an economic opportunity. “The signs are unmistakable, the science is undeniable and the cost of inaction keeps mounting,” Biden said from the White House. “This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative, a moment of peril but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities.”
In 2019, the most recent year where complete data is available, U.S. emissions came in roughly 13 percent below 2005 levels, according to the EPA. For another angle on how far the U.S. still needs to go to reduce its carbon footprint, last year, when much the country essentially did nothing at all—drove less, flew less, moved less—U.S. emissions are still only projected to be down less than a quarter—roughly 21 percent—for the year compared to the 2005 baseline. Even before four harebrained years of Trump, the U.S. had a lot of work to do to meet its emission targets. When former President Barack Obama signed the U.S. on to the Paris accord in 2016, the outgoing Obama administration pledged a 28 percent reduction in emissions levels by 2025. Biden’s new emissions target nearly doubles Obama’s reduction pledge.
“Administration officials said they see multiple paths toward achieving their goals, through a combination of federal policies and action by states, companies and other subnational groups,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Mr. Biden has proposed a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package that includes measures to reduce emissions, such as a proposed standard mandating that the country’s electricity be produced with low-carbon energy sources.” U.S. climate leadership faces domestic opposition from Republicans that say it’s unfair for the U.S. to have to make sometimes difficult cuts, with economic consequences, if other developing nations, most importantly China, don’t have to do the same. That opposition has made the U.S. an unreliable global partner in the race to reduce the impact of climate change and skepticism of even global allies remains.
In my six years at Slate, I’ve written about multiple national elections, social movements, and major cultural phenomena. With support from Slate Plus members, I’ve also gotten to dive deep into stories and angles no other outlets were covering, and that Slate wouldn’t have otherwise had the time or resources to tackle. —Christina Cauterucci, senior writer