With U.S. President Joe Biden’s climate leaders’ summit just over a week away, more than 300 major corporations are urging the White House to commit to a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, nearly double the goal of 26 to 28% previously set by the Obama administration.
Biden is expected to announce his country’s updated target before or during the virtual event he’s convening on Earth Day April 22. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is one of 40 world leaders invited to attend.
The latest push for a more ambitious U.S. carbon commitment is coming from the We Mean Business coalition, an initiative organized by Boston-based investor action group Ceres. Corporate giants like Walmart, Apple, Microsoft, Verizon, and Unilever are demanding a 50% threshold that recent reports from the United Nations and the U.S. National Academies of Science have defined as both necessary and achievable, Inside Climate News reports.
“To restore the standing of the U.S. as a global leader, we need to address the climate crisis at the scale and pace it demands,” the coalition wrote in a letter to Biden released yesterday.
The New York Times says the 310 signatories included Google, utility giants Exelon and Pacific Gas & Electric, McDonald’s, Target, Salesforce, and the parent group of tobacco giant Philip Morris USA, once seen as a staunch Republican Party supporter. “I think this signals a major shift in the corporate community’s understanding of the urgency of climate change as a systemic financial risk,” Anne Kelly, Ceres’ vice president for government affairs, told the Times.
“Only by doubling the original U.S. commitment under the Paris accord, [the companies] argue in the letter, will the world’s largest economy and historic contributor to carbon pollution be in a position to persuade other nations to join in the action necessary to hold global warming below 1.5°C,” Inside Climate writes. “The target could be reached by a number of paths, experts say, but it would require a dramatic transformation in society’s energy usage and would most likely encounter political pushback.”
Those transformations would include shifting at least half of new vehicle sales to electrics by 2030, completing millions of building energy retrofits, phasing out coal-fired power plants, and adding carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to remaining gas plants.
“This target really is serving as the North Star for domestic policy,” World Resources Institute Director Dan Lashof told Inside Climate. “This is a moment to say, ‘Here is what we aim all that to add up to.’”
“Anything under the 50% would be severely unequivalent” to the task of driving down the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, agreed E3G Senior Policy Advisor Jennifer Tollmann.
“At this moment, it’s not enough to just say, we’re back,” added Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “We have to come back with a very bold commitment to climate action.”
Inside Climate links Biden’s upcoming announcement to the history and structure of the Paris Agreement, which called for the 197 countries that signed the deal to ratchet up their carbon reduction commitments every five years. “It was a way to break a stalemate that had stymied negotiations for the previous quarter century, and to bring all nations—rich and poor—to the table to make differing commitments,” ICN recalls. “In theory, the ambition in those commitments would increase as clean energy became more affordable.”
But 2020 was the first deadline for new targets, and by the end of last year only 75 countries representing less than 30% of global emissions had filed updated plans with the United Nations climate secretariat. That prompted UN Secretary-General António Guterres to declare a “red alert” for the planet, noting that the combined commitments to date would add up to only a 0.5% emissions reduction by the end of this decade.
“Decision-makers must walk the talk,” Guterres said at the time. “Long-term commitments must be matched by immediate actions to launch the decade of transformation that people and planet so desperately need.”
“The message is extremely clear,” agreed UN climate secretary Patricia Espinosa. “We are collectively wandering into a minefield, blindfolded. The next step would mean disaster.”
Inside Climate cites a recent commentary in which Liane Schalatek of the non-profit Heinrich Böll Foundation concluded that countries must triple their emission reduction targets to hit the Paris target. “This makes the pressure for a correspondingly ambitious and visionary U.S. contribution even greater,” she wrote.
And that’s what puts a spotlight on Biden’s pledge, said Nathan Hultman, founder and director of the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland, who worked in the Obama White House and helped develop the country’s original Paris commitment.
“What matters is what the countries actually do,” and “despite the fact that at the federal level the United States has not been leading in the last four years, it remains a country that many countries look to, to kind of calibrate how ambitious they should be,” he told ICN. “If the U.S. steps back, everybody steps back. If the U.S. steps forward, everybody’s going to be looking and saying, ‘OK, I think we’re back in the game now.’”
Inside Climate News has details on the discussion in the U.S. and the policy push the country will need to achieve an ambitious carbon reduction target.