ANN ARBOR—President Joe Biden pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions in half by 2030 during a virtual climate summit today with 40 world leaders.
University of Michigan experts are available to comment.
Jennifer Haverkamp, a veteran of seven U.N. climate summits, is a former ambassador and special representative in the Obama State Department, where she led U.S. negotiating teams to successful climate agreements under the Montreal Protocol and the U.N. International Civil Aviation Agreement. Since 2018, she is the director of U-M’s Graham Sustainability Institute, a professor from practice at Michigan Law and a professor of practice at the Ford School of Public Policy.
“This new commitment is the essential next step in the United States’ bid to reclaim its mantle of global climate leadership,” she said. “While ambitious, it’s also no more than what’s needed, especially since averting disaster hinges on how much gets done in the critical coming decade. Whether it’s attainable—and credible—depends on our policymakers doing what the science and the American public require of them.”
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Barry Rabe is a professor at the Ford School of Public Policy and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of the 2020 book “Trump, the Administrative Presidency, and Federalism,” which examines U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and other executive actions whereby former President Trump reversed direction from former President Obama.
“The Biden announcement puts the United States back in the global climate policy mix, potentially in a lead role,” he said. “Of course, pledges are easier to make than to honor. This leaves open the issue of the political path to deliver on these commitments that must include Congress through legislation that can prove durable and effective.”
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Arun Agrawal, professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability and faculty associate at the Center for Political Studies, was a lead author of the livelihoods and poverty chapter in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 report on climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.
His expertise lies in the political economics of development, environmental governance, resource use and management, climate adaptation and institutional analysis. He is the coordinator of the Sustainability and Development Initiative at the School for Environment and Sustainability.
“A 50% reduction of U.S. emissions compared to 1990 is both achievable by 2030 and only the first step in efforts by the United States to prevent dangerous climate change,” he said. “Countries such as the United Kingdom, Denmark, Bulgaria and Uruguay are only four of more than 20 that have achieved emissions reduction of 20% to 50% compared to 1990 levels while growing the economic pie.
“Investments in cost-competitive renewable energy production, doubling down on energy efficiency, strategic deployment of a revenue-neutral carbon tax, and support for terrestrial carbon sinks are the most promising and cost-effective pathways for the U.S. to achieve its global commitments and responsibility for emissions reduction.”
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Jonathan Overpeck is an interdisciplinary climate scientist and dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability. He is an expert on paleoclimate, climate-vegetation interactions, climate and weather extremes, sea-level rise, the impacts of climate change and options for dealing with it. He served as a lead author on the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 and 2014 reports.
“The science is clear that we must make big inroads to reducing our global carbon emissions in this decade, and this announcement commits the U.S. to an excellent push to 2030,” he said. “We have the technology and know-how to do it, so it is entirely feasible, and sets an excellent example for other major greenhouse gas-emitting countries to follow. It’s great to see the U.S. stepping up as a global leader in the fight against the climate crisis.
“Moreover, toxic air pollution and climate impacts from the burning of fossil fuel are disproportionately impacting disadvantaged communities in the U.S. and around the globe. A just transition to clean energy must be a fast transition, and this new commitment is a positive step in the right direction.”
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Anna Stefanopoulou is a professor of mechanical engineering at the College of Engineering who can discuss the role of the transportation sector broadly, as well as the life cycle of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles (EVs).
“This is a critical point in time. We are still in the growth phase of EV adoption. Biden’s emissions reduction target will require enormous growth in lithium-ion battery production for those future EVs,” she said. “It will also demand monumental efforts to reduce lithium-ion battery costs, to minimize pollution from mining, processing and manufacturing them, and to effectively manage millions of gigawatt hours worth of retired batteries so they don’t become environmental hazards for disadvantaged communities in the coming decades.
“We still have the opportunity to address these challenges by developing a circular battery economy here in the U.S. and by training the experts who can engineer clean transportation solutions and grow a skilled workforce who can manufacture, remanufacture, operate, assess and service batteries.”
Todd Allen is professor and chair of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences at the College of Engineering and founding director of Fastest Path to Zero, an interdisciplinary U-M initiative that helps communities meet ambitious climate goals. He can discuss the role of nuclear energy in meeting the emissions target.
“Decreasing emissions requires more nuclear energy as a key component of the U.S. zero-carbon production portfolio, and the Biden administration has set up the possibility to see more advancements in nuclear than we have seen in decades,” he said. “However, to date, very few of the current 30 countries using nuclear power have explicitly mentioned nuclear in their Nationally Determined Contributions.
“If the U.S. wants to show leadership on the world stage, there is no better time than now to stand up nuclear to help meet the climate challenge. The U.S. needs to present bold plans for nuclear, alongside other low-carbon energy sources. I recommend the U.S. commit to the inclusion of nuclear energy in support of the Paris Agreement.”