Mar 24, 2021 - Energy & Environment

2030 is the new 2050 for emissions-cutting pledges

Illustration of a hand placing a number three card over the number 2050
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Pledges to end net emissions by midcentury are now commonplace for big countries and companies, but several looming summits are putting a fresh focus on a much closer horizon.

Driving the news: U.S. officials intend to unveil a 2030 greenhouse gas emissions-cutting target under the Paris deal by April 22 — the date of a big summit Biden is hosting.

  • And more broadly, the next major UN climate conference in Scotland late this year is aimed at showcasing nations' updated medium-term pledges — and how they'll breathe life into them.
  • China, the world's largest emitter by far, is under lots of scrutiny because it has not yet unveiled policy specifics behind its vow to have its emissions peak before 2030.
  • Nikkei Asia reported Tuesday that Japan plans to unveil a more ambitious 2030 target before the G7 summit in June.

Where it stands: John Kerry, President Biden's climate envoy, used a multilateral meeting Tuesday to call for countries to show "concretely" how they'll meet those midcentury pledges with nearer-term steps.

  • "The scientists tell us it just doesn’t work to issue a mid-century goal without reducing sufficiently between now and 2030," Kerry said at the annual Ministerial on Climate Action hosted by China.
  • "Without that, and without a miracle, it’s as highly improbable as it is highly implausible that you could ever get to 2050 net zero in a way any country would ever choose," Kerry said.
  • Separately, new analysis from the investor network Climate Action 100+ finds that among scores of the world's largest carbon-emitting companies, there's a "critically important" need for "more robust" medium-term targets (i.e. the 2026-2035 range). Reuters has more.

The intrigue: A deeply reported Washington Post story gets to the dilemma facing U.S. officials — crafting a 2030 pledge over the next few weeks that's ambitious but not just a paper tiger.

  • That's especially tricky because while Biden is looking to leverage executive actions at agencies government-wide, his push for deep cuts will require lots of help from the narrowly divided Congress.
  • "Nobody will be satisfied with good targets without anything backing it up," Laurence Tubiana, a former French climate diplomat who now heads the European Climate Foundation, tells the paper.

Why it matters: Any hope of meeting the Paris Agreement's longshot target of limiting warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial means steep cuts need to be happening now.

  • The UN's science panel estimates that a path toward that goal would mean greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 need to be 45% below 2010 levels.
  • UN officials made that point when releasing a late February report finding that medium-term pledges thus far don't create anything close to a pathway to those cuts.
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