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U.S. Steps Back Into Leadership Role To Battle Global Climate Change

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The U.S. stepped back into climate leadership this week as the Biden administration hosted a summit on climate change with 40 other countries. That's where President Biden pledged to dramatically reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and he encouraged other countries to try to do the same.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: This summit is a start, a start of a road that will take us to Glasgow for the U.N. Climate Change Conference in November, where we're going to make these commitments real.

SIMON: NPR's Jeff Brady joins us. Jeff, thanks so much for being with us.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And let's begin with the U.S. What is the president promising to try?

BRADY: Well, the U.S. is committed to reducing greenhouse gases by 50 to 52% by the end of the decade. That's based on 2005 emissions. That's twice what President Obama pledged back in 2015. And we weren't even on track to accomplish that, so this is very ambitious.

SIMON: And how does the Biden administration plan to achieve that in just 9 years?

BRADY: You know, this summit - it was about setting big goals. And we're going to get more details in coming months, but we do have some clues now. The administration wants a national clean energy standard. That would require increasing amounts of electricity from sources that don't emit the climate warming gases that fossil fuels do. Also, the president's infrastructure proposal would ramp up electric cars and build more transmission lines to get renewable energy to where it's needed. Cooperation from Congress is going to be necessary to make those a reality.

This is a huge undertaking, and Biden says the entire federal government is working on the climate issue now. One comment yesterday during the summit - it helped me better understand the scope of what's being undertaken here. The executive director of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, said countries are starting down this road without even knowing how some emissions reductions will happen because the technology doesn't exist.

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FATIH BIROL: About half the reductions to get to net zero emissions in 2050 will need to confirm technologies that are not yet ready for market today.

BRADY: That's why in these pledges countries are making, especially wealthy countries, boosting research and development budgets is a big focus, too.

SIMON: Jeff, did the other countries also step up their goals?

BRADY: A few did announce more aggressive targets. Japan increased its emissions reduction goal to 46%. Canada boosted its target to at least 40%. The United Kingdom is the leader here. It plans to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035. And China also said it will try to limit a projected increase in coal use and then phase out coal-fired electricity. South Korea said it'll stop financing new coal power plants in other countries.

And these may not sound as ambitious as the U.S. and U.K., but under the Paris Agreement, countries with long histories of emitting greenhouse gases like the U.S. and the U.K., they're expected to be more ambitious early on. Countries like China and India that are just now emerging as big emitters get more time to phase down their fossil fuel use.

SIMON: The goal of the Paris Climate Agreement is to limit warming below two degrees Celsius, and hopefully below 1.5. Are all of these pledges enough to do that?

BRADY: They're not. Humans, you know, spent the last century plus removing carbon from underground and putting it up in the atmosphere. It's going to take an extraordinary effort to start reversing that. But this is a few steps in that direction. And countries have to trust each other to stick to their commitments, then come back again later and try to ratchet up their commitments even more.

SIMON: NPR correspondent Jeff Brady, thanks so much.

BRADY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.