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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced Thursday that he's doubling the United States' original commitment to slashing greenhouse gas emissions, making the country's goal one of the most ambitious in the world as he hosted leaders from around the globe during a virtual summit on climate change.
"That's where we're headed as a nation," he said in remarks from the White House. "And that's what we can do, if we take action to build an economy that's not only more prosperous, but healthier, fairer and cleaner for the entire planet."
Previously, President Barack Obama had pledged to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 when the Paris climate accord was signed more than five years ago. Biden said he will increase that target to 50 to 52 percent by 2030 — a dramatic escalation that will require sweeping changes in how Americans power their cars, homes and factories if the nation is serious about fulfilling his promise.
"We must get on a path now in order to do that," Biden said. "If we do, we'll breathe easier, literally and figuratively." He added, "We really have no choice. We have to get this done."
Leaders of 40 countries — including China, Russia and India — accepted invitations to the two-day summit, which is being held virtually because of the pandemic. Its opening was timed to coincide with Earth Day.
Exactly how Biden plans to put the United States on a trajectory to meet his goal is unclear. Administration officials did not detail specific policies they would implement or propose, and many ideas will probably face stiff resistance from Republicans and from industries that would be forced to overhaul their operations.
U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the administration's plans as costly and ineffective.
"This is quite the one-two punch," McConnell said Thursday in a Senate speech. "Toothless requests of our foreign adversaries … and maximum pain for American citizens."
Parts of Biden's climate agenda were included in his infrastructure and jobs proposal. He wants all electricity in the United States to come from carbon-free sources by 2035. Roughly half of the country's power currently comes from sources that don't generate greenhouse gases.
He also proposed funding for 500,000 vehicle charging stations by 2030. Currently less than 1 percent of vehicles on the road are powered by electricity. But what that potential growth in electrical vehicles means for corn-based biofuels is becoming an issue in farm states like Iowa.
Iowa’s only Democrat in Congress, U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, last week in a letter to U.S. House leaders touted biofuels and urged they be expanded under any infrastructure plan.
“I’ve heard it directly from the farmers and producers that I represent: our biofuels sector is ready and able to be a part of the clean energy solutions that we are finally going to get done in this Congress within this infrastructure bill,” Axne wrote. “I am ready to support the robust infrastructure investments proposed by the White House, but our final proposals cannot forget this homegrown energy source that reduces our emissions and creates jobs across our nation.”
Biden almost certainly will need to rely on cities and states to deliver some of the emissions reductions with their own policies. Although his plans remain vague and fraught with political hurdles, the president hopes his declaration will demonstrate the country's unequivocal return to the fight against climate change. His immediate predecessor, President Donald Trump, had withdrawn from the Paris agreement and unraveled environmental regulations.
Biden also wants to use his new goal — among the most ambitious in the world, according to the Rhodium Group, an independent research organization — to urge his counterparts to increase their own commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In his remarks, Biden noted that the United States produces 15 percent of global emissions — second only to China, but still a fraction of the worldwide total.
The leaders of Russia and China put aside their disputes with the United States long enough to pledge international cooperation on cutting coal and petroleum. But neither Vladimir Putin nor Xi Jinping immediately followed the United States and some of its developed allies in making specific new pledges to reduce fossil fuel pollution.
Climate advocates hoped the high-profile virtual gathering will kick-start new action by major polluters, paving the way for a November United Nations meeting in Glasgow critical to drastically slowing climate change over the coming decade. Biden administration officials said they hope some of the other countries participating will announce more ambitious targets at the end of the year.
The Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press contributed to this report.