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Biden's Earth Day climate summit signals US commitment to climate change: White House advisor

·4-min read

As President Joe Biden prepares to virtually host 40 world leaders for a first-of-its-kind Leaders Summit on Climate this week, the White House faces a delicate balancing act: going bold enough to signal the U.S. commitment to the climate crisis, while assuaging domestic concerns about job losses that accompany the transition to a low-carbon future.

Speaking to Yahoo Finance Live, White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said the president plans to announce a new goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions that will demonstrate the urgency with which the administration is approaching the issue.

“We can show the world leaders that we are serious about our commitment to address climate change, and we want to talk to them about how we all look to strengthen our efforts moving forward,” McCarthy said. “We do know that this decade is going to be pivotal for the world to actually make the kind of commitment that the science is telling us is necessary.”

Scientists and environmental groups are calling on Biden to set a target that would slash emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels, by the end of the decade. The commitment, known as a Nationally Determined Contributions or NDC, is a key part of the Paris Agreement. The 50% cut would nearly double the country’s previous commitment announced under the Obama administration, and put the U.S. behind the UK, EU, and Switzerland as one of the most ambitious countries.

“Science tells us that we have a bigger challenge than we recognized when Paris was actually completed. And we have to start looking at how we move forward, not just as countries, separate countries, but as the world to address the challenge of climate change,” McCarthy said.

The ambitious initiatives are part of the Biden administration’s efforts to put the U.S. back at the forefront of the global climate discussion, after a four-year absence under former President Donald Trump.

Biden has called on McCarthy and John Kerry, U.S. special presidential envoy on climate, to lead discussions on the domestic and international front, while directing every government agency to come up with a detailed plan to tackle the issue.

National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Washington. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry listens at left. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Washington. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry listens at left. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

But the administration faces a skeptical audience, especially outside of the U.S. where the climate retreat under the Trump administration is still fresh in their minds. Last week, Zhao Lijian, the spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the U.S. “offered nothing on how it plans to make up for the lost four years.”

“The U.S. chose to come and go as it likes with regard to the Paris Agreement. Its return is by no means a glorious comeback but rather the student playing truant getting back to class,” Lijian said.

Electric vehicles vs. jobs, infrastructure

Domestically, Biden’s climate ambitions have faced opposition from Republicans, who have accused the president of prioritizing a green economy at the expense of jobs tied to the fossil fuels industry. His $2 trillion infrastructure proposal calls for $174 billion investment to expand electric vehicles, $100 billion to update the country’s electricity grid, and a $16 billion investment to help fossil fuels workers transition to green jobs, among a long list of climate initiatives.

In an interview with Yahoo Finance Live on Monday, Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, criticized the steep price tag.

“I'm always for additional research to make our transportation structure more efficient and more climate friendly," Collins said. "But I gotta say, I don't think it makes sense to spend $174 billion on electric vehicles, which is more than roads, bridges, seaports, airports, and waterways combined."

McCarthy acknowledged the skeptics, but said the administration is quickly moving to invest millions of dollars in communities affected by climate change, to ensure a smoother transition to lower-carbon jobs.

“The idea is not to deny it, but to embrace that challenge and begin to invest in it,” she said. “We've already identified $260 million in investments in communities in coal country, to put people back to work in their communities with their existing skill set to start closing those old coal mines that have been abandoned in oil and gas well infrastructure that is spewing methane out, because it's a double win. It puts them back to work making the kind of living with the kind of training they already have.”

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita