(CNN) — President Joe Biden on Thursday kicked off a virtual climate summit attended by 40 other world leaders by announcing an ambitious cut in greenhouse gas emissions as he looks to put the US back at the center of the global effort to address the climate crisis and curb carbon emissions.
At the White House summit, which is taking place on Thursday and Friday, Biden committed the United States to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 50%-52% below its 2005 emissions levels by 2030. Officials said Biden and his team arrived at the final number in a meeting at the White House on Wednesday morning.
In an address opening the summit, Biden laid out his vision for a greener economy in which climate change is taken seriously across all sectors and results in more jobs for the blue-collar workers he has focused on throughout his career.
“That’s where we’re headed as a nation, and that’s what we can do if we take action to build an economy that’s not only more prosperous but healthier, fairer and cleaner for the entire planet,” Biden said.
“These steps will set America’s economy to net-zero emissions by no later than 2050,” he added.
The figures were struck after lengthy consultations with government agencies, scientists, industry representatives, governors, mayors and environmental researchers. The move underscores the President’s commitment to addressing the climate crisis and follows on his pledge to work with other countries to find joint solutions to global issues.
When then-President Barack Obama first joined the Paris climate agreement in 2015, he pledged to cut emissions by a range — 26% to 28% — by 2025, making the new 50%-52% cut a major jump. A second official said the higher target would give the US “significant leverage” in convincing other countries to raise their ambitions ahead of a climate summit in Glasgow later this year.
What the President will not unveil, at least right now, is a specific road map for how the United States will reach those targets, which are being described as “economy-wide.” Officials described “multiple pathways” for the US to arrive at the goal, and said the President’s climate task force would release sector-by-sector recommendations later this year on achieving the necessary cuts.
“Achieving that target is something we can do in multiple ways,” a senior administration official said a day ahead of the announcement.
“In the coming months you will continue to see from the administration a focus on driving forward the necessary actions that unlock the jobs opportunity that tacking the climate crisis presents,” the senior administration official said.
Several members in Biden’s Cabinet are playing a role at the summit, including hosting sessions, speaking at sessions and discussing how their role or department or agency pertains to issues surrounding the climate crisis, a separate administration official said earlier this week.
A virtual call to action
The summit focuses on mobilizing public and private sector finance to reach net-zero emissions and “build a resilient future,” according to the official. The US plans to discuss investing in innovation, which the administration argues is critical to creating transformational technologies to reduce emissions and at the same time creates new economic opportunities.
It’s hoped that other countries will follow the US’ lead with additional announcements of new goals to tackle the crisis, the administration official said.
“There is a significant sign that we expect action at this meeting. We’re looking for people to make announcements, to raise their ambition, to indicate next steps that they intend to be taking to help solve the climate problem,” the official said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are two notable leaders who are attending the summit, underscoring the wide range of leaders attending. Many allies of the US are also in attendance, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The first step
Since taking office in January, Biden has elevated climate change as an essential element of US foreign policy and national security. The US reentered the Paris climate accord, the landmark international agreement signed in 2015 to limit global warming, which Trump pulled the US out of.
Biden appointed former Secretary of State John Kerry as his special presidential envoy for climate, a Cabinet-level position that sits on the National Security Council. The President also named Gina McCarthy, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, as his White House climate czar to lead his newly formed Office of Domestic Climate Policy.
Climate is a big focus of the President’s roughly $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. He has said his proposal would create hundreds of thousands of jobs while tackling the climate crisis, reducing emissions and building a “modern, resilient and fully clean grid.”
Biden focused heavily on the potential economic boon that fighting climate change could present. His critics have described attempts to move the country away from fossil fuel as job-killers. But Biden hopes to highlight the opportunities that would come along with overhauling technology to make it cleaner.
“There is only one playbook that works in this moment and that playbook is you chase after the economic opportunity that tacking the climate crisis presents and we’re doing that,” the senior administration official said.
Officials said they conducted a “techno-economic” analysis across various sectors — including electricity, transportation, buildings, industry, lands and oceans — to identify various pathways for reducing emissions in each one. That included the potential for new standards and incentives that would limit greenhouse gasses.
“The 2030 target is a target we believe we can meet,” the senior administration official said.
As a presidential candidate, Biden put forward a plan to end carbon emissions from power plants by 2035 and proposed broader public investment in green infrastructure, including $2 trillion for clean energy projects.