Biden can boost economic recovery by cutting US emissions in half by 2030


If you are concerned about the growing impacts climate change is having on communities across the U.S. and the world, you probably breathed a sigh of relief when Joe Biden was elected president.

After four years of inaction on climate, President Biden is finally pointing the United States in the right direction. In the first few months of his term, he’s reversed many of the previous administration’s climate rollbacks, rejoined the Paris Agreement and ordered all federal agencies to be part of the climate solution.

This week Biden fulfilled his promise of making climate change the cornerstone of his plans to build back better from the COVID-19 crisis.

The new $2 trillion American Jobs Plan infrastructure plan unveiled by Biden at a speech in Pittsburgh contains major climate and clean energy provisions, including investments in building energy efficiency, electric vehicle manufacturing and charging infrastructure, grid modernization and low-carbon cement and steel.

These climate-smart recovery measures could kickstart the economy and create millions of good jobs. On average, each $1 million invested in energy efficiency, solar or wind power in the U.S. will generate over double the jobs of the same investment in coal, gas or oil. Investments in public transport and bike paths similarly deliver more construction jobs than road building. Recent analysis shows strong climate action and economic recovery go hand in hand.

The infrastructure package also offers an opportunity to reduce inequality by opening a pathway to prosperity to disadvantaged and marginalized communities that for far too long have been harmed, ignored and excluded from decision-making processes.

These initial actions prove that Biden is taking the climate crisis seriously and understands the major opportunity to create a more efficient and clean energy economy.

To further bolster domestic economic recovery and to reestablish the U.S.’s role as an international climate leader, the Biden administration must now do two things:

  • Set an ambitious 2030 emissions-reduction target
  • Ramp up climate finance

Research shows setting a 50 percent emissions-reduction target by 2030 compared to 2005 levels is ambitious but attainable. It would also put the U.S. on a credible pathway to achieve Biden’s pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and guide the domestic climate agenda.

Cities sand states in the U.S. have stepped up their leadership and taken major climate action over the last four years that, if expanded, could already reduce U.S. emissions by 37 percent by 2030. An “all-in” strategy with action from the federal government could get the U.S. to 50 percent reduction by 2030, according to America’s Pledge analysis.

And many businesses and investors are already out in front — for example, earlier this year GM announced its commitment to an all-electric vehicle future by 2035, and Microsoft has committed to remove from the atmosphere all of the carbon dioxide it has emitted since it was established.

Cutting emissions in half in the next decade also offers the U.S. major economic and social benefits, both of which are sorely needed as the country works to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Already, 41 U.S. states are growing their economies while also reducing their emissions.

Biden will likely unveil the 2030 target ahead of the Leaders’ Climate Summit on April 22. The summit offers the U.S. an opportunity to showcase its climate leadership and push other countries to ramp up action ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow this November.

The European Union and United Kingdom have already set ambitious 2030 emissions-reduction targets that go even further than a 50 percent cut. The U.S. must ramp up its ambition to demonstrate its credibility on the global stage, or risk being overshadowed by competitors.

Leadership from the U.S. can also help to spur other countries — including China, Japan, South Korea and Canada — who have all now committed to net-zero emissions targets but need to strengthen their 2030 targets to align. All major emitters must commit to stronger climate commitments if the world is to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as outlined by the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Setting an ambitious 2030 target is just the starting point for the U.S. to prove to the international community that taking climate action is a priority for the nation.

The Biden administration must also help developing nations build low-carbon, resilient economies and take ambitious action under the Paris Agreement. Only $1 billion of the Obama administration’s $3 billion pledge was contributed to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) before the Trump administration halted support. In the time since the U.S. made its commitment to the GCF, other countries have doubled their pledges.

The U.S. should fulfill its outstanding pledge to the GCF and follow other nations by doubling its contribution to $6 billion. This increased funding to developing nations could help create more stable economies, help with COVID-19 recovery and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals on employment, energy access and inequality.

The additional support, as well as Biden’s order to make climate change an “essential element” to consider in foreign policy and national security decisions, could strengthen relationships with key partners around the world, expand markets for American clean technology exports, and make the U.S. safer, stronger and more resilient to future shocks.

Biden has proposed major investments to accelerate the U.S. recovery by taking strong climate action. The next step is committing to cutting emissions in half to serve as a north star for the Biden administration’s climate agenda and increasing climate finance to support climate action internationally.

Congress must also rise to the occasion and take bold action to boost the economy, produce millions of good jobs and mitigate climate impacts by enacting Biden’s vision into law. It’s time to build a cleaner, more equitable future for all Americans.

Helen Mountford is the vice president of Climate and Economics at World Resources Institute.

Dan Lashof is the director of World Resources, United States.