Why the White House Never Released Its 2030 Climate Strategy

The United States still owes the world details about how it plans to meet President Biden’s pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of this decade.

The White House promised last year that those would come in the form of a comprehensive “U.S. National Climate Strategy.” That term was used more than 20 times by the American government in a report submitted to the U.N. climate body last year on how the United States would zero out emissions by 2050.

That submission, known as “The Long-Term Strategy of the United States,” calls the National Climate Strategy, or NCS, a “companion” document that “focuses on the immediate policies and actions that will put America on track to reduce emissions by 50-52 percent below 2005 levels in 2030.”

Participants in the global climate talks assumed the NCS would be released at the U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

It still hasn’t been made public.

Releasing the strategy would end the mystery around Biden’s ambitious promise to slash emissions in half by 2030. Currently, no one knows exactly how the administration will achieve those cuts. And that may be why the strategy hasn’t been released: Because the administration isn’t sure either.

A week before the conference opened, White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy and national economic adviser Brian Deese briefed environmental groups on the National Climate Strategy, leaving them with the impression that the strategy’s release was imminent.

“My belief is, they were getting a little out over their skis,” one participant said.

At the time, the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress still hoped that the House and Senate would pass the “Build Back Better Act”—a sprawling climate and social spending bill that would go a long way toward meeting Biden’s promise to slash emissions in half by 2030.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called passage of the act “imperative” to U.S. credibility at the climate talks.

But then “Build Back Better” faltered in the Senate after moderate Democrats balked at its price tag and social spending provisions.

Three months later, it remains mired in gridlock on Capitol Hill. Meanwhile, the Biden administration faces the prospect this year of a Supreme Court decision that could severely restrict its ability to achieve its 2030 commitment through regulations that would limit power plant emissions.

Amid all this uncertainty, the White House has stopped talking about its 2030 road map—the National Climate Strategy. It didn’t respond to inquiries for this story.

Advocates who are in touch with McCarthy and her staff say they’re focused on trying to resuscitate the climate provisions in “Build Back Better” rather than cobbling together a plan B for the 2030 emissions goal.

And for now, they say, that’s fine.

“I’m not sure that sooner would be better than later if sooner means uncertainty about both of those elements,” said Alden Meyer, a senior associate with E3G, referring to Congress and the Supreme Court.

“The utility of a product that lays out a strategy on how we meet our emissions targets before we pass a much-needed legislative vehicle is marginal,” said Jamal Raad, executive director of Evergreen Action, a left-leaning climate group.

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