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President Biden Begins Climate Summit By Setting Ambitious Emissions Goals


Today on Earth Day, President Biden announced a big new goal - cutting the country's greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative, a moment of peril, but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities.

SHAPIRO: Biden made the pledge at the start of a two-day virtual summit focused on climate change. He and other world leaders met on video conference to set new goals for staving off the worst effects of a warming planet. NPR's Scott Detrow is at the White House and joins us. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good afternoon.

SHAPIRO: There's already a major U.N. climate summit set for later this year, so why did Biden want to host his own summit?

DETROW: You can kind of think about this as a big dramatic gesture, in a way. Biden knows that after President Trump, other countries are skeptical the U.S. will do what it takes to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Trump, as a reminder, withdrew from the Paris climate agreement. He tried to undo scores of environmental regulations, and he regularly questioned the basic premise of climate change. So Biden wanted to gather world leaders and say, the U.S. really cares about this.


BIDEN: The science is undeniable, and the cost of inaction keeps mounting. The United States isn't waiting. We are resolving to take action.

DETROW: And the administration also kept saying they had a second important goal here as well, and that was to remind other countries that they need to do more as well. It is worth repeating again - those initial promises set during the Paris agreement are not enough to lower emissions to where scientists say the world could avoid those worst-case scenarios of warming.

SHAPIRO: This is such an ambitious goal - to reduce emissions by 50% by the end of this decade. What would it take to get there?

DETROW: So one important technical point - it's a 50% reduction from where emissions were in 2005. The U.S. had agreed to about half of that during the initial Paris agreement, and it has fallen behind that pace. So what Biden is promising would be just an enormous change to the entire U.S. economy and a rapid one - you know, changes in the way electricity is produced and transmitted and how people travel and what homes look like. Biden and top White House officials keep insisting this is doable, but it's notable they have not yet laid out a clear path to get there.


DETROW: Sorry. That's the late announcement that you're familiar with from your time at the White House.

SHAPIRO: Oh, you're in the White House. Yep.


DETROW: And, you know, it's going to take a lot of changes in policy and a lot of new laws for this to likely happen.

SHAPIRO: So global climate change is a global issue that requires global solutions. So what did other world leaders say today?

DETROW: Biden had hoped other countries would roll out big, new goals as well. We heard a lot from developing countries today who really emphasized that this is an important, immediate existential crisis for them. There were a few announcements. Both Japan and Canada announced similar goals to the U.S. The United Kingdom, earlier in the week, had announced an aggressive goal - nearly an 80% reduction. And on the politics of this, I noticed Prime Minister Boris Johnson echoed Biden's framing of climate action during his remarks, saying it does not mean slowing down the economy.


PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: This is not all about some expensive, politically correct green act of bunny hugging; this is about growth and jobs.

DETROW: Johnson also said - and I will give you the exact quote here - "cake; have, eat is my message to you."

SHAPIRO: Cake; have, eat. Well, that's also, I guess, in so many words, the message that Biden is trying to give Congress. How much does this goal that he has set depend on his $2 trillion infrastructure plan getting passed?

DETROW: So this is interesting. Biden's proposal would be an unprecedented investment in clean energy with a clear goal of speeding up the shift to renewables, but White House officials are really shying away from saying that this 50% reduction they announced depends on that measure passing. They kept saying in a briefing last night to reporters there are multiple pathways to reach this reduction goal. It seems like they're clearly cautious about trying to tie this promise directly to one bill, and that really gets to the main skepticism that other countries have about U.S. commitments to tackling climate change. They take Biden seriously; they're just skeptical major climate legislation can pass Congress. They also worry another future administration could do what President Trump did and just walk away from all of these agreements.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow. Thank you.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.

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