WASHINGTON For four years the rest of the world watched with frustration and irony as the United States pulled out of the Paris Agreement, the global climate pact it had painstakingly pressured to adhere to, and then abruptly abandoned under the Trump administration.
As of Friday, the United States is back in the deal, but with a lot of catching up to do to meet its emission reduction commitments and restore its diminished position on the world stage.
U.S. heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions fell last year, but that was an anomaly due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has dampened large segments of the economy. As the country bounces back, emissions are set to rise again, and President Joe Biden’s administration is rushing to find ways to put the United States on track to meet even more ambitious goals that scientists believe are necessary to avoid the worst effects of global warming.
This is especially true when it comes to restoring the credibility of the United States to persuade China, by far the world’s largest emitter, to go faster.
“We have to show that we are not just talking, we are walking,” said Todd Stern, the Obama administration’s senior negotiator on the 2015 climate accord. “Our ability to make an impact will start at home. . Everyone understands that the United States must redouble its efforts. “
Biden, hours after being sworn in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, signed an executive order returning the United States to the climate deal. It takes 30 days after a country submits its papers to the UN for entry to take effect, a period that ends on Friday.
As the Biden administration seeks to show the seriousness of its goal, a series of carefully choreographed events on Friday will mark the official return of the United States to the hard-fought global deal.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry, Biden’s special climate envoy, will be at the forefront, officials said. He will appear with UN Secretary-General Antnio Guterres in the afternoon and join Biden’s domestic climate tsar Gina McCarthy and his UN climate envoy Mike Bloomberg for a morning event aimed at to launch the “America Is All In” coalition, made up of city, state and business leaders who continued to act on the climate during the Trump years.
In an effort to show solidarity on the climate with her European partners and other allies, Kerry will also participate in a special midday session of the Munich Security Conference and a virtual reception marking the return of the United States. by the EU delegation and the embassies of the United Kingdom, Italy, France and Chile. He will answer questions on climate diplomacy at another event alongside the British and Italian ambassadors.
And Biden is expected to underline the United States ‘decision when he participates in a virtual Group of Seven summit on Friday and to promote a world leaders’ climate summit that the United States is planning for April, in keeping with a major focus on the climate by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, host of the G-7.
Officials involved in the administration’s climate agenda said the key message the United States hopes to send is that the Paris Agreement remains intact, having endured without other countries following the United States to the door, a prospect climate advocates feared when Donald Trump, months after taking office, announced that the United States was absent.
In the coming months, the Biden administration is also due to develop a new emissions reduction target, known as the Nationally Determined Contribution, which will determine the scope of the country’s ambitious goals over the next decade. Under the Paris Agreement, commitments, which are reviewed every five years, are not binding, although other parts of the agreement are.
The previous target, set by President Barack Obama, committed the United States to reducing its emissions by at least 26% by 2025 compared to 2005. In the years that followed, American emissions have indeed fallen. , boosted in part by measures taken under the Obama administration to reduce emissions from power plants, vehicles and other sources, but not enough.
Initial data indicates that last year, when emissions were unusually low due to the pandemic, the country’s emissions were 21.5% lower than in 2005, according to Rhodium Group, an independent researcher who tracks data on shows. But in 2019, before the coronavirus swept the world, the United States only came close to about half of its target, with emissions 12% below 2005 levels, as opposed to the target of 26%.
With Trump’s withdrawal from the pact, the 2025 target has technically become moot. Biden’s new target will spell out what cuts the United States will seek to undertake by 2030.
“In that sense, we are starting over,” said Nat Keohane, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group.
The Biden administration plans to announce the new target in April, when Biden convenes a world leaders’ climate summit, several U.S. officials have said. Longer term, Biden committed the United States to achieving net zero emissions across the economy by 2050, long after he left.
How Biden will seek to achieve these goals is an open question. But the efforts will likely involve a combination of regulations to enact more stringent emission limits on vehicles, power plants and industry; incentives to move the United States more quickly to electric cars and renewables; and potentially a market-based mechanism to force reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, such as a carbon tax or levy or an emissions trading system, said people familiar with the deliberations of the ‘Biden administration.
All of this requires a radical departure from the policies pursued by the Trump administration, which sought to overturn Obama-era regulations and provide incentives for economic growth by placing less stringent limits on the industry.
“Indeed, there has been no contribution from the US government” during the Trump years, said Guterres, the UN secretary general, on Thursday. Still, he said, the rest of American society continued to make rapid progress on climate despite Trump, positioning the United States to be “fully on track to net zero in 2050.”
Other countries are also closely monitoring whether the United States will meet its commitments to the Green Climate Fund, which was set up to enable poorer developing countries to reduce their emissions by shifting some of the costs to countries. richer who have historically endured the most. responsibility for climate change. The United States has given only about a third of the $ 3 billion promised by the Obama administration; Kerry said the Biden administration would “make up” the full amount.
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The United States has historically contributed more to global emissions than any other country, but the rapidly developing China now leads the world in greenhouse gas emissions, and has continued to build power plants in the world. coal, even as President Xi Jinping has set himself the goal of zero China’s emissions by 2060.
“It is not enough for the United States to join Paris. We have to start cutting our emissions so that we can put pressure on countries like China, whose emissions continue to rise,” said Paul Bledsoe, climate adviser at the Clinton administration who is a strategic advisor at the Progressive Policy Institute, a nonprofit advocacy group.
In the first few weeks of Biden’s presidency, the Chinese hawks expressed concern that the drive to continue climate diplomacy with Beijing, a key priority for Kerry, could lead the Biden administration to show more gentleness towards China on other points of contention, such as trade, human rights and Beijing’s aggressive actions in the region.
Kerry has vowed that other national security concerns will not be overlooked for the sake of the climate, calling it a “critical and stand-alone issue” that he hopes the United States can pursue with Beijing even if the relationship worsens over time. ‘other fronts.
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