President Biden announced Friday that the United States would revive its participation in an initiative among dozens of nations and investors to increase government budgets for renewable energy research, development, and deployment.
The program, Mission Innovation, was spearheaded by former president Barack Obama and Bill Gates, in parallel with the Paris Agreement on climate change, in 2015. When former president Donald Trump abandoned the climate accord and sought to roll back most funding for renewable energy in the United States, Mission Innovation faded from view.
Biden, speaking on the second day of a virtual summit he convened to galvanize world leaders to do more to tackle climate change, said the challenges and opportunities of reducing planet-warming emissions would be met by “working people” in all countries.
“As we transition to a clean energy future, we must ensure workers who have thrived in yesterday’s and today’s industries have as bright a tomorrow in the new industries as well as in the places where they live,” the president said.
Gates, a philanthropist and Microsoft cofounder, on Friday also called for huge new public and private investment in innovation to meet Biden’s goals and global targets for avoiding catastrophic climate change.
“Just using today’s technologies won’t allow us to meet our ambitious goals,” Gates said via video.
After Biden kicked off the first day of his climate change summit by declaring that the United States would cut its global warming emissions at least in half by the end of the decade, day two of the virtual gathering on Friday focused on how the United States and other nations could meet their targets and ramp up renewable energy development.
Achieving the US goals would take a substantial overhaul of current domestic policies, according to energy experts, who say that the country would need to virtually eliminate its use of coal for electricity and replace millions of gasoline-powered cars with electric vehicles.
Jennifer Granholm, the energy secretary, called the US plan to tackle climate change “our generation’s moonshot.” Speaking during a session on the development of renewable energy, she said the Biden administration was aiming to cut battery cell prices and the price of solar in half while reducing by 80 percent the cost of hydrogen energy, which would reduce dependency on natural gas, all by the end of the decade.
“We need a mindset that overcomes resistance to change,” Granholm said. “Many are stuck on the status quo, and maybe they are insistent that we can’t reach our goals.”
But Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, warned Friday that countries setting ambitious new goals for cutting planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions were still producing too much climate pollution.
“Right now, the data does not match the rhetoric, and the gap is getting wider,” Birol said. The IEA last week issued a report that forecast demand for coal rising by 4.5 percent this year, mainly to meet soaring electricity demand.
“We are not recovering from COVID in a sustainable way, and we remain on a path of dangerous levels of global warming,” Birol said.
Yet there were some moves away from coal. On Friday, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, announced that his country would end the use of coal domestically. On Thursday, South Korea said that it would stop overseas financing for coal development, and China vowed to “strictly limit” coal as it aims to peak emissions by 2030.
Other speakers on Friday included Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose agency will be critical in pushing through efforts by the executive branch to get the nation closer to the president’s bench marks.
Buttigieg highlighted his agency’s plans to bolster electric vehicles and create jobs as the transportation sector moves away from fossil fuels, although he did not mention plans to reinstate tough fuel-economy standards on passenger vehicles, the nation’s largest source of greenhouse pollution.
Biden is pushing his Cabinet to implement other climate change policies, including rules limiting fossil fuel extraction on public lands and new financial regulations intended to curb investment in heavily polluting industries.
But even factoring in all those efforts, much of Biden’s promise to halve the country’s emissions remains wrapped up in the infrastructure plan, which includes the money and the policies to draw down carbon pollution, but has not yet been translated into legislation, much less found support from a divided Congress.
“This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative,” Biden said Thursday. “A moment of peril, but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities.”