50% Emissions Reduction Club: US, Japan, Canada, South Korea
The fast-approaching Climate Summit hosted by President Biden offers a tremendous opportunity for some of the world’s biggest contributors to climate change to up their game, and commit to being halfway to net zero by the end of this decade.
The fast-approaching Climate Summit hosted by President Biden offers a tremendous opportunity for some of the world’s biggest contributors to climate change to up their game, raise their climate commitment—and join the “50 Percent Club.”
That is a group of countries committing to cut their emissions by at least half by 2030 on a path to net zero emissions no later than 2050. The U.S., Japan, Canada, and South Korea are poised for such a bold move as a step towards keeping global temperature rise to 1.5°C, needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change to people and our planet.
These countries must rise to the moment and commit to be halfway to net zero by the end of this decade.
By committing to cut emissions in half, these countries could join the European Union (55 percent below 1990 levels), United Kingdom (68 percent below 1990 levels), and Norway (at least 50 percent below 1990 levels) who have already committed to cut emissions in 2030 by at least half.
The U.S., Japan, Canada, and South Korea are each among the world’s largest emitters, largest economies, and members of the leading economic clubs (see table). They have the capability for such an emission cut and should commit to similar targets given their advanced and integrated economies.
Here is where they stand.
The United States’ current target is to cut emissions to 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. President Biden has outlined his intention to drive U.S. emissions to net zero no later than 2050, but the U.S. doesn’t yet have a 2030 target towards that goal. The president has pledged to bring forward a 2030 target by the April 22-23 climate summit that the U.S. is hosting.
A growing number of leading analysis have demonstrated multiple feasible technical and policy pathways for the U.S. to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, underscoring the credibility and feasibility of the target. These include assessments by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the University of Maryland Center for Global Sustainability, Environmental Defense Fund, Energy Innovation, and America Is All In.
In a new report, NRDC showed how the Biden administration can and must commit to an ambitious and achievable 2030 target of cutting U.S. net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Such a target will put millions of Americans to work every year, avoid tens of thousands of premature deaths, help ward off a climate catastrophe, and help the U.S. mobilize greater global climate action.
A broad and diverse group is calling for such a target for the U.S. Over 300 businesses and investors that have $3 trillion in annual revenue and employ nearly 6 million American workers has called for a target of at least 50 percent. Nearly 400 business executives, entrepreneurs, and investors from all over the U.S. called for such a target. Seventy-five higher education institutions have called for such a target, over 40 medical societies and health organizations have called for the U.S. to “go big”, and over 1,500 scientists have urged the administration to commit to cut emissions by “at least” 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 would be an important step towards a 1.5°C and net zero aligned pathway. As the NRDC report states: “this is a key step along a just and equitable pathway to net-zero GHG emissions no later than 2050. The target is ambitious, but it is achievable.”
Japan’s current target is to cut emissions 26 percent below 2013 levels by 2030 (23 percent below 2005 levels) by 2030. Since that target was adopted, the Japanese government has committed to net zero emissions by 2050. However, the current Japanese target isn’t in line with a trajectory to net zero by 2050. Japan is reportedly working on a strengthened target, with some possibility to announce a stronger target by the April 22-23 climate summit.
Leading Japanese groups have called for Japan to commit to a target of 48-53 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 (50-55 percent below 2013 levels; 45-50 percent below 1990 levels). An international assessment placed a 1.5°C aligned pathway for Japan even higher, at over 60 percent compared to 2013 levels by 2030. A coalition of 174 leading Japanese companies have called upon Japan to set a target of cutting domestic emissions by 50 percent below 2013 levels by 2030 (48 percent below 2005 levels).
The Japanese government is reportedly considering a target of 45-50 percent below 2013 levels by 2030. A target of only 45 percent below 2013 levels is not in line with what this moment demands. It is way too low to be credible and serious. Instead, the Japanese government should commit to a target of 52 percent below 2013 levels (50 percent below 2005 levels). A target less than this would fail to be the necessary step towards the 2050 net zero target and would fail to show the kind of innovation that Japan has been known for in the past.
Canada’s current target is to cut emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Since that target was first announced, Canada has committed to drive towards net zero emissions no later than 2050. Canada’s current target isn’t in line with a clear trajectory towards that net zero target. As a result, Prime Minister Trudeau has committed to bring forward an “enhanced 2030 emissions target” by the April 22-23 climate summit.
Leading groups in Canada are calling for the Canadian government to set a target to cut domestic emissions by at least 60 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. International estimates of a 1.5°C aligned path for Canada puts the domestic emissions reduction cuts to at least 55-83 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Canada’s climate plan from December 2020 analyzed scenarios that cut emissions by only 32-40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. This is far short of the kind of target such a leading economy should deliver. A cut of less than 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 would fail to realize the necessary leadership from Canada given the urgency of the moment, and put it out of step with important trading partners.
South Korea’s current target is to cut emissions 24.4 percent below 2017 levels (six percent above 2005 levels), without land-use emissions and sequestration. At the end of 2020, South Korea committed to a goal of bringing their emissions to “carbon neutrality by 2050” while the National Council on Climate and Air Quality (NCCA), an ad-hoc council established by the South Korean President and led by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, recommended that the country phase out coal by 2040 to meet its 2050 net zero target. South Korea’s current target isn’t in line with this new carbon neutrality target. As a result, President Moon Jae-in’s administration is considering a strengthened target in the coming months.
A leading group in South Korea has called for the country to set a target of 59 percent below 2017 levels (42 percent below 2005 levels) in line with an international study of a 1.5°C aligned path for South Korea.
There are some indications that South Korea is considering a target of 45-50 percent below 2017 levels. A cut of less than 50 percent below 2017 levels by 2030 would fail to show the kind of global leadership that South Korea is capable of delivering.
Time for Key Countries to Join the at Least “Halfway to Net Zero” Club
Anything less than a 50 percent cut from these countries would fail to rise to this critical moment. They should commit to be at least halfway to net zero by the end of this decade through enshrining the following targets:
- US: at least 50 percent below 2005 levels
- Japan: 52 percent below 2013 levels
- Canada: at least 50 percent below 2005 levels
- South Korea: 50 percent below 2017 levels
These four leading economies have the opportunity to rise to the moment at this decisive global juncture. They should join the “50 Percent Club” and send a clear signal to the rest of the world they are committed to be halfway to zero emissions by the end of this decade. That’s how they can protect the health and safety of people around the world, and the planet from climate catastrophe.