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U.S. President Joe Biden seen in the Oval Office on April 15. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

The Biden administration is moving to address global warming by setting a new, economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 50% to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Why it matters: The new, non-binding target is about twice as ambitious as the previous U.S. target of a 26% to 28% cut by 2025, which was set during the Obama administration. White House officials described the goal as ambitious but achievable during a call with reporters Tuesday night.

  • President Biden unveiled the goal during the opening remarks of a virtual climate summit the White House is hosting on Thursday, which will feature at least 40 heads of state, including China's President Xi Jinping, as well as business executives and Pope Francis.
  • "This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative. A moment of peril but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities," Biden said in his address. "Time is short but I believe we can do this and I believe that we will do this."

The big picture: The new 2030 target is meant to keep the U.S. on a path that would be likely to limit global warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels by 2100.

  • This is the more stringent target contained in the Paris Climate Agreement, which would be more likely to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change.
  • Right now, the world is on course to see around 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) of warming by 2100.

The target is also aimed at convincing the world which watched as former President Trump attacked and abandoned the Paris deal — that the U.S. is not only back in the agreement, but a a leader in global climate efforts.

  • "The United States is not going to wait. The costs of delay are too great, and our nation is resolved to act right now," an administration official told reporters on Tuesday night's call.
  • Another official said it should provide "significant leverage" for pushing for climate action from other countries.

How it works: Meeting the target will require sweeping changes across the U.S. economy, including decarbonizing the power sector, dramatically scaling up the share of electric vehicles on the road, along with large gains in energy efficiency for buildings, among other measures.

  • Levers at policy makers' disposal include everything from tax credits for deploying renewable energy systems and purchasing electric vehicles to regulatory actions.
  • According to Nathan Hultman, director of the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland, about 75% of all reductions may come from the electricity and transportation sectors.
  • For example, renewable power generation would have to scale up from delivering about 21% of our electricity today, to 50% by 2030, Hultman told Axios via email, citing recent research.
  • The administration argues these solutions would be net job-creators. Officials vowed to take steps to cushion the blow to fossil fuel workers that could see job losses.

Yes, but: Some environmental groups say that in the global context, the U.S. target is not ambitious enough.

  • Global action is required to meet that 1.5-degree goal, and other countries must commit to sharp emissions cuts in the near-term.
  • But the U.S. is the biggest emitter, when viewed historically, giving it a special burden to act, these groups say.
  • A landmark report released in 2018, along with other studies since, shows that globally, emission cuts of 45% to 50% are needed by 2030 to have a fighting chance to meet the 1.5-degree target, without depending on technological breakthroughs, such as ways to suck carbon out of the air.

Between the lines: During the Wednesday night briefing, officials described how the target was crafted, and said there are multiple pathways within each economic sector to achieve it.

  • The administration is not betting the entire target on passing its $2.2 trillion infrastructure package, currently grinding through congressional negotiations.
  • White House analysts — led by national climate adviser Gina McCarthy and her deputy, Ali Zaidi — collaborated with government agencies and the private sector to determine feasible cuts for each economic sector.
  • They then compared those to the president's existing commitments, such as moving the U.S. to net zero emissions by 2050.

Of note: Officials repeatedly cited technological advances and market forces, which are driving a faster pace of decarbonization than thought five to 10 years ago, as reasons why their target is both ambitious and achievable.

  • They pointed to steep declines in costs for batteries, solar panels and other clean energy technologies, as well as state and city policies implemented during the Trump administration.
  • "We're standing here with better field position today than we had four years ago, than we had 10 years ago," an official said.

Reality check: Global emissions fell in 2020, but are on track to rebound after the pandemic-induced decline.

  • Arresting the growth, and bending the emissions curve downwards, is a Herculean task on a global level, where China is the top current emitter, with India, Brazil and other developing countries also seeing increases.

Ben Geman contributed reporting.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jul 30, 2021 - Politics & Policy

White House: Climate among "root causes" of migration

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The new White House strategy for improving conditions in Central America to slow migration includes helping to build resilience to climate change.

Why it matters: Climate change is increasingly understood as one of many drivers of human displacement, both within and across borders, due to flooding and other extreme weather, effects on food security and more.

Advocates say Biden has let Haitian migrants down

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Christian Torres/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Continued turmoil in Haiti is causing a growing number of Haitians to try to make it to American shores — and some advocates say the Biden administration isn't supporting this community in its time of crisis.

The big picture: Haitian-American activists in South Florida told Axios Today they feel like President Biden has gone back on campaign promises he made to the community to stand up for them.

47 mins ago - Health

Supply isn't our only COVID treatment problem

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Antiviral COVID treatments are hailed as a pandemic game-changer, but they're currently in very short supply — and that's only one of several barriers to access for high-risk patients.

The big picture: Even when supply ramps up, it will still be tricky to connect some of the most vulnerable patients to the pills without changes to the process.