How The U.S. Could Halve Climate Emissions By 2030
NOEL KING, HOST:
This week, President Biden will meet with international leaders to talk about a new goal for cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental advocates want a 50% cut by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. I asked Lauren Sommer from NPR's climate team what life would look like in 2030 if we got there.
LAUREN SOMMER, BYLINE: One of the first things he did as president was to rejoin the Paris climate accord. You know, that's the international agreement to limit emissions that former President Trump pulled out of. So as part of that, every country makes a commitment to cut emissions. So the Biden administration's commitment is just going to be this overarching framework for all his policies going forward. And, you know, both environmental groups and some major business leaders are pushing him to announce a cut of 50%.
KING: OK. So we'll all be waiting to see what percentage he announces. Why 50%, though? What specifically about that do these groups like?
SOMMER: Yeah. That's what the scientific studies are saying. You know, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change - so things like really extreme heat waves and extreme sea level rise - the world needs to go down to net zero emissions by mid-century. So that 2030 goal is what would put the U.S. on a path to do that. But, you know, even supporters like Danielle Arostegui at the Environmental Defense Fund, they say it's going to be tough.
DANIELLE AROSTEGUI: It's pretty ambitious. This is not an easy target to achieve, but we think it is something that is achievable if we really kind of put the pedal to the metal here.
KING: So what would the country look like in 2030 if we're emitting half as much carbon?
SOMMER: Yeah. That's something that a number of researchers have looked at. And the biggest change would likely be where our electricity comes from. So solar, wind and other renewables would be a much bigger part of the grid. And that's something that's already happening because their cost has come down so much. The flip side of that is that coal power would shrink dramatically. But Nate Hultman, who directs the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland, says that's also already happening.
NATE HULTMAN: It actually is uneconomical in many cases to continue to burn coal even regardless of the climate and health impacts of that. So coal is struggling already. And it's unlikely that it will continue in any significant form beyond 2030.
KING: I want to ask you about another big source of emissions, which are cars. Let's say it is 2030 and we hit the goal. And I'm looking around at the roads. What am I seeing?
SOMMER: You wouldn't see much different on the roads, maybe. But you would see very different car dealerships...
SOMMER: ...Because from half to all of new car sales would need to be electric cars by 2030. But on the roads, it might not be that different because there'd still be gas-powered cars. You know, cars last a long time, right? You drive them more than a decade maybe. So any policy change there takes years to be felt.
KING: All of these policies would require significant political buy-in. Is it likely that the Biden administration could really move fast enough to reach a 50% cut?
SOMMER: Yeah. I think it's a good question. There's a lot he can do with executive powers. But it would be very difficult for the U.S. to hit that target without congressional action, you know, whether it's new spending or new regulation. And, you know, that's the fine line that Biden's going to be walking with international leaders. He's trying to encourage other nations to meet their commitments to cut emissions. So he's going to have to prove that the U.S. can do what it says it will on climate change.
KING: NPR's Lauren Sommer. Thanks so much, Lauren.
(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "VINES")
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