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President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that the United States intends to cut planet-warming emissions nearly in half by the end of the decade, a target that would require Americans to transform the way they drive, heat their homes and manufacture goods.

The target, confirmed by three people briefed on the plan, is timed to a closely watched global summit meeting that Biden is hosting Thursday and Friday, which is aimed at sending a message that the United States is rejoining international efforts to fight global warming after four years of climate denial from the Trump administration.

A White House spokesperson declined to comment on the U.S. target, which was first reported by The Washington Post.

The leaders of China, India and nearly 40 other countries are expected to join Biden virtually, and the United States hopes that the announcement of its new emissions goal will galvanize other nations to step up their own targets by the time nations gather again under United Nations auspices in November in Glasgow, Scotland.

The new U.S. goal nearly doubles the pledge that the Obama administration made to cut emissions 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, although the country would have five more years to achieve it, according to the people familiar with the target who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it. Formally known as a “nationally determined contribution” under the Paris Agreement, the 2030 target will be a range that will aim to cut emissions around 50% from 2005 levels. It will not include detailed modeling showing how the United States proposes to meet its pledge, one administration official said.

Steam rises from the coal-fired Miller Power Plant in Adamsville, Alabama, on April 11. | AFP-JIJI
Steam rises from the coal-fired Miller Power Plant in Adamsville, Alabama, on April 11. | AFP-JIJI

The goal is largely in line with what environmental groups and big businesses including McDonald’s, Target and Google have pushed for. They and others argued that cutting emissions at least 50% from 2005 levels by the end of the decade is the only way to put the United States on a path to elimination of fossil fuel pollution by the middle of the century.

On Tuesday, Gina McCarthy, Biden’s top climate change adviser, hinted that the United States would set that ambitious goal.

“I would argue that there’s opportunities for us to be able to be very aggressive, and we’re going to take that opportunity,” she said in an interview with NPR.

Meeting it, however, will be a steep challenge.

Nathan Hultman, director of the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland, and other energy experts described the 50% goal as attainable, but only with what Hultman described as “pretty significant action across all sectors of the American economy.”

The credibility of Biden’s pledge rests on his ability to enact a series of aggressive new domestic policies designed to sharply reduce emissions, particularly from the nation’s two largest sources of greenhouse pollution, cars and power plants.

McCarthy is working with the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and Transportation Department to draft new regulations on smokestacks and automobile tailpipes, which could be made public by this summer.

But other countries remain skeptical of the durability of such rules, given their experience with the Trump administration. As head of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Obama administration, McCarthy wrote similar rules, only to see them obliterated.

“The most important part of anything that they do is to make sure that it’s durable,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University. “We really need to show in some very tangible way that the particulars can’t be reversed on a dime and we don’t have that.”

The administration is also trying to push a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package through Congress, which includes plans to spend heavily on projects like electric vehicle charging stations and expanding transmission lines for wind and solar electricity.

Many Democrats hope that the plan will include a mandate requiring power companies to generate a certain percentage of their electricity from wind and solar, inscribing into law a transition away from fossil fuels that could not be undone by a future president.

But the prospects for passage of that plan in Congress remain unclear. Some Republicans have offered tentative support for a compromise infrastructure bill that would include more traditional projects like highways and bridges but leave out the climate provisions.

That would give Biden a bipartisan victory on a major domestic policy but leave the United States without a permanent, irreversible climate law.

© 2021 The New York Times Company
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