President Joe Biden is committing the United States to a broad goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions in half over the next decade relative to 2005 levels, but he’s leaving the details of how to reach that goal until later.
Announcing the pledge Thursday at the beginning of a global leaders summit being held online, Biden said, "That's where we're headed as a nation. 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 isn’t offering specific targets for reducing individual greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, according to administration officials. The president also isn’t detailing plans for how much individual sectors such as agriculture need to reduce their emissions or potentially offset emissions from other sources.
However, Biden cited the potential for agriculture to play a role in reducing U.S. emissions. "I see farmers deploying cutting-edge tools to make the soil of our heartland the next frontier in carbon innovation," he said.
Farming practices such as conservation tillage and the use of cover crops keep carbon in the soil while planting trees or converting cropland to grass also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
China, by comparison, will actually allow its carbon emissions to peak in 2030, but President Xi Jinping insisted Thursday that his country would be carbon neutral by 2060, 10 years after the U.S. target for zeroing out emissions.
"China has committed to move from carbon peak to carbon neutrality in a much shorter time span than what might take many developed countries, and that requires extraordinarily hard efforts from China," the Chinese leader said.
China accounts for 30% of global emissions, while the United States produces 15%, followed by the European Union at 9% and India at 7%.
The emission-reduction pledges, known as a nationally determined contribution, are non-binding under the Paris climate agreement, which was aimed at keeping global warming during this century below 2 degrees Celsius. Biden's pledge — which is specifically to reduce emissions 50% to 52% by 2030 — is in line with a goal of holding global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“Achieving that target is something that we can do in multiple ways, relying on different transformations in different sectors,” one administration official said.
Biden's climate envoy, John Kerry, told reporters later Thursday that the United States would "probably" wind up exceeding the 50%-52% reduction because of technological breakthroughs.
Japan, Canada and other countries also are increasing existing pledges. With the U.S. pledge, countries representing more than half the global economy will have made commitments in line with the 1.5-degree goal, according to the White House.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the U.S. pledge a "game-changing announcement."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his country's new commitment to reduce its emissions 40% to 45% by 2030 from 2005 levels.
Japan pledges to reduce its emissions 46% by 2030 from 2013 levels.
Some U.S. companies, including some food and beverage firms, have followed the 1.5-degree goal in making commitments to reduce emissions from their supply chains.
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The administration’s climate policy proposals so far have largely relied on using voluntary measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as tax credits and other financial incentives to promote the expansion of renewable energy sources and electric vehicles.
But the administration official said that a border adjustment tax for imports of carbon-intensive products also was possible.
Also Thursday, the Senate Agriculture Committee approved by voice vote a bill to accelerate the development of agricultural carbon credits. The Growing Climate Solutions Act, which is co-sponsored by more than a third of the Senate, would authorize USDA to certify technical advisers and credit verification services.
“This brings us one step closer to providing more opportunities for farmers and foresters to lead in addressing the climate crisis and also benefit from new streams of income," said Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
Agriculture accounts for 9.6% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Nitrous oxide, which results from the use of nitrogen fertilizer, is by far the largest source of ag emissions, followed by methane, which is released by belching cattle and livestock manure
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