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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden's new U.S. emissions-cutting target is a sign of White House ambition and a number that distills the tough political and policy maneuvers needed to realize those aims.

Driving the news: This morning the White House unveiled a nonbinding goal under the Paris Agreement that calls for cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 50%-52% by 2030 relative to 2005 levels.

President Biden today touted the new target at the opening of the virtual White House summit with other heads of state.

  • “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,” he said, while also encouraging other countries to act.

Why it matters: Achieving it would require greatly accelerating the transition of U.S. power, industry and transportation to cleaner energy sources and greater efficiency. The pledge aims to show the U.S. return to climate diplomacy and prod other nations to act aggressively too.

It's an extremely heavy lift. Consider this: The research firm Energy Innovation estimates that without any new emissions-cutting policies, the U.S. is on track to reduce emissions by 12% by 2030 relative to 2005 — nowhere near Biden's goal.

  • Projections vary, but the bottom line is that hitting the target would require major changes in the country's trajectory.
  • Another lens: it's twice as ambitious as the previous target of a 26%-28% cut by 2025 set during the Obama administration.

It's a political tool — here and abroad. An administration official told reporters the pledge creates "significant leverage" to push for initiatives in other nations.

  • The target's also aimed at a U.S. audience, both in the public and Capitol Hill.
  • Officials are emphasizing job creation in low-carbon industries — a four-page White House summary cites "jobs" over a dozen times.

Biden's in a difficult spot. The pledge comes as the White House is pushing Congress to approve huge new climate investments, and planning new regulations.But there are huge uncertainties surrounding congressional action, while executive moves will face legal challenges — it all complicates the White House effort to convince other countries the pledge isn't just a paper tiger.

White House aides insist it's realistic. Officials told reporters they have multiple pathways to achieving the target and touted state and local efforts that help.

  • They also pointed to corporate plans and market forces rowing in the same direction, noting steep cost declines for batteries, solar and other clean tech.
  • “We’re standing here with better field position today than we had four years ago, than we had 10 years ago,” an official said.

It may not be enough. Emissions models are stuffed with variables, but directionally, analysts say global cuts on the scale of 50% by 2030 are needed to meet the Paris target of holding warming to 1.5 °C.So some activists say the U.S., as the largest historical emitter and the world's richest country, should shoulder a greater share.

Environmentalists are generally psyched about the target. Manish Bapna, the interim CEO of the World Resources Institute, called it a "bold" goal that should "make the world sit up and take note."

  • "This target will serve as the North Star for President Biden’s domestic agenda. It will create a more equitable and prosperous society," Bapna said in comments circulated to reporters.

Yes, but: Some groups on the green movement's left flank, like the Sunrise Movement, said it falls short.

  • "The only way to get the rest of the world to take climate action to the degree we need is if the United States — the richest country in the world and the biggest historical polluter — does our fair share first," said Evan Weber, the group's political director, in a statement.

The other side: Via the New York Times..."Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, said that the president was 'unilaterally committing America to a drastic and damaging emissions pledge' that would punish the U.S. economy while 'America’s adversaries like China and Russia continue to increase emissions at will.'"

Go deeper: Biden pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 52% by 2030

Go deeper

Jul 30, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Infrastructure cap will force fuzzy math

President Biden answers reporters' questions after a speech Thursday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's (D-Ariz.) warning that she’s opposed to a budget reconciliation bill costing $3.5 trillion will force Senate Democrats and the White House to either trim the proposals in it or tinker with how many years they'll run.

Why it matters: Such gamesmanship will be necessary if lawmakers and the Biden administration want to keep the support of progressives and centrists. But it will lead to a bill with costs and durations as uneven as the Manhattan skyline.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

British national named in Colleyville synagogue standoff

A law enforcement vehicle sits near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on Jan. 16. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

British national Malik Faisal Akram took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue outside Fort Worth on Saturday, the FBI said in a statement.

State of play: Authorities had initially declined to release the name of the 44-year-old suspect or identify the hostages, all adults, though police chief Michael Miller confirmed that one of those held was Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who leads the congregation.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron — Deaths are climbing as cases skyrocket.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: West Virginia governor feeling "extremely unwell" after positive test — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers — America struggles to keep schools open
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker