US needs nearly two-thirds emissions cut by 2030 to achieve net zero by mid-century, new analysis finds

Countries around the world are looking to President Biden to set an ambitious emissions reduction target to drive stronger global climate action

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Friday 12 March 2021 16:40 GMT
National emissions reductions of at least 57-63 per cent below 2005 levels are needed
National emissions reductions of at least 57-63 per cent below 2005 levels are needed (AFP/Getty)

The United States needs to cut emissions by almost two-thirds in the next nine years to reach net zero by mid-century, according to new analysis published on Thursday.  

National emissions reductions of at least 57-63 per cent below 2005 levels are needed, according to research by the independent team at Climate Action Tracker (CAT).

CAT measures individual government climate action against what will be needed to keep the world aligned with the Paris Agreement to limit global heating well below 2C or an increasingly ambitious 1.5C (above pre-industrial levels) by 2100.

President Biden is set to host nations at a virtual “Climate Leaders’ Summit” on 22 April which is both Earth Day and the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Paris Agreement.

His administration is expected to make public an improved 2030 emissions reduction target before then, in line with the US rejoining the Paris Agreement.

The world is eagerly anticipating this number ahead of UN climate talks, known as COP26, in Glasgow this November, to give a clearer sense of the near-term goals of the world’s second largest polluter, which has spent four years idling on the crisis under former president Donald Trump.

Mr Biden began signing executive climate orders on his first day in the White House. While campaigning, he promised aggressive action to move the US to net zero emissions before 2050 and transform the power sector to net zero by 2035.

But Professor Niklas Hohne, a member of CAT, said that while President Biden had made “positive first steps”, it was still not enough.

“Even if President Biden were to adopt the Paris Agreement 2030 target we suggest he should, he still needs to implement policies to get the US onto this emissions pathway towards zero greenhouse gas emissions,” Professor Hohne said.

Other experts have suggested that America come up with a 2030 emissions reduction target between 45-50 per cent below 2005 levels.

However the CAT analysis notes this would result in an emissions gap of up to 900,000,000 tons (0.9Gigatons) of carbon emissions in 2030.

The analysis explored President Biden’s agenda across three sectors – the 2035 energy sector promise, along with the goal of halving the carbon footprint of buildings by 2050, and aiming for 100 per cent zero-emissions vehicles.

According to the findings:

- Decarbonising America’s power sector by 2035 is consistent with the Paris Agreement

- However when it comes to transport, where the US produces the most emissions, the goals are vague, according to the analysis. To remain 1.5C compatible, “95-100 per cent of new light-duty vehicles...should be zero-emissions at national level by 2030”.

- In the buildings sector, to meet the Paris goals the researchers said that by 2030, emissions should be around 60 per cent lower in residential buildings, and 70 per cent lower in commercial properties (from 2015 levels).

An ambitious US target is crucial, said Bill Hare of CAT, as it will likely lift the bar for other nations who have been dragging their heels.

“It would be a major boost to international climate cooperation. Having the US taking such strong action would reverberate across the world, and result in other countries also stepping up to adopt the kind of targets they need to make global net zero a reality,” Mr Hare said.

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