17 November, 2020

US and China climate goals: Scenarios for 2030 and mid-century


Yvonne Deng, Ursula Fuentes, Bill Hare, Lara Welder, Matthew Gidden

White House

This report produced by the Asia Society Policy Institute and Climate Analytics models the possible range in ambition of the new 2030 emissions reduction target the new U. S. administration under President-elect Biden will list under the Paris Agreement. This includes an assessment of the mitigation potential of Biden's Clean Energy & Climate Package. The report also finds that China’s recent commitment to reach carbon neutrality before 2060 would be directly in line with the long-term goal of the Paris Agreement if it covers all greenhouse gases, but this would require much deeper cuts in the short-term.

In September 2020, President Xi Jinping announced new goals for China to reach carbon neutrality before 2060, as well as to strengthen its existing 2030 commitments under the Paris Agreement. With these announcements, China has signalled a move to join the European Union — as well as the United States under a Biden administration — in leading long-term climate action among the big emitters.

Our analysis demonstrates that if China’s new long-term goal covers all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and not just carbon dioxide (CO2), this could bring the country within reach of the emissions reductions required by mid-century for its actions to be in line with the Paris Agreement’s long-term goal of limiting average global temperature increases to 1.5°C. However, if President Xi’s announcement is only meant to cover CO2, then China would need to achieve carbon neutrality around 2050 for this to be compatible with the Paris Agreement.

Either way, China’s short-term actions will also need to be quickly brought into line with its new longterm trajectory. This includes doing more than simply peaking CO2 emissions before 2030 as President Xi foreshadowed. Instead, our analysis demonstrates that China would need to peak its emissions by 2025 and rapidly reduce these thereafter to be compatible with the Paris Agreement. This also implies a need for significant adjustments to the other quantifiable targets identified in China’s existing Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement and the ramping up of action to achieve these. Reducing coal-fired power generation quickly and phasing it out entirely by 2040 would be an important step toward achieving this early peak and rapid reductions.

Under the Trump administration, the United States has reneged on past climate action promises and rolled back existing policies resulting in an increase in emissions compared with the Obama administration. As a result, this report highlights that even under a Biden administration, the United States is likely to miss its previous 2025 target under the Paris Agreement.

However, a Biden administration means that the United States now has the potential to reverse the Trump administration’s rollbacks and make a significant contribution to closing the Paris Agreement’s ambition gap in a new 2030 NDC. Indeed, by taking the initiative to reboot U.S. action in line with the Energy and Climate Package touted by President-elect Biden during his campaign, including its goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, U.S. emissions could be reduced substantially by 2030. For example, our analysis indicates that if the Biden campaign’s policies were to be fully implemented with the support of Congress (see below), and continue to be supported by strong subnational action, they could bridge more than half of the U.S. share of the global ambition gap by 2030 through reducing emissions by up to 38%–54% below 2005 levels (GHGs, including land use, land-use change and forestry). This would also reduce estimates for average global temperature increases in 2100 by 0.1°C, on top of the 0.2°C–0.3°C reduction achieved by China’s recent announcement.

As this report shows, President-elect Biden’s plan to decarbonise the U.S. electricity system by 2035 would represent by far the biggest contribution to this effort and is in line with the Paris Agreement temperature goal. It would result in savings of ~1,350 MtCO2 out of a total abatement potential of ~1,710 MtCO2 e [1,510–1,950] in 2030 across his Energy and Climate Package.

However, this report also estimates that potentially only half of this potential could still be achieved through Executive Authority in the event of Congress not supporting action, although this estimate carries a large degree of uncertainty. We also outline how additional emissions reductions could come from action in other areas, including freight transport and industry—with the electrification of end-use sectors and green hydrogen important opportunities to achieve this.

If the United States and China fully implement these ambitious goals and are able to achieve net-zero GHG emissions around mid-century, it would be a monumental step forward toward bringing the Paris Agreement goals within reach. It would also mean that for the first time more than 60% of the world’s emissions are in countries with a clear pathway to decarbonise their economies. However, achieving the goals will require bold action in all sectors of the economy, with an early coal phase-out being paramount for both countries.