What Can the US Do Immediately to Achieve Our New Climate Commitments?

Yesterday, President Biden announced a new Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) for the Paris Agreement that commits the United States to cutting greenhouse gas emissions 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. 

A series of policies listed below can and must form a part of our nation’s path forward to delivering on that commitment. 

As part of the new US Nationally Determined Contribution, the administration set a goal to reach 100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035, which can be achieved through multiple cost-effective pathways each resulting in meaningful emissions reductions in this decade. That means good paying jobs deploying carbon pollution-free electricity generating resources, transmission, and energy storage while ensuring those facilities meet robust and rigorous standards for worker, public, environmental safety and environmental justice.

The US’s commitment is in line with an analysis the Sierra Club released last week that underscores how advocates have driven progress and accelerated emissions reductions—so much so that it will be achievable for the US to reduce emissions at least by half by the end of the decade. 

We must use every tool at our disposal to address the interconnected crises of climate change, racial injustice, unemployment, and economic inequity this country faces. In just the past few weeks, we’ve seen leaders in Washington move to do just that, with responses ranging from the continued push for an infrastructure package rooted in the principles of the THRIVE Agenda,  to Senator Wyden’s legislation to advance clean energy and remove wasteful fossil fuel subsidies, and President Biden’s continued focus on using executive action and rulemaking to clean up toxic pollution, protect our public lands, and invest in a clean energy future. Each of these proposals can play a critical role in the federal government’s response to the climate crisis, and all must be carried out in order to build American back better as a more just and equitable society.

STATES AND CITIES MOVE AHEAD REGARDLESS: As action at the federal level comes into view, it’s critical to shine a spotlight on the tremendous progress that cities and states across the country continue to make via their own bold plans to address these crises. While federal action was blocked over the past four years under Donald Trump, advocates from the Sierra Club and elsewhere worked with cities and states to move the nation forward on achieving the benchmarks set out during the Obama Administration. We’ve demonstrated that our national climate progress remains resilient even in the face of unpredictable headwinds. 



Both the House and Senate have proposed legislation to dramatically increase tax incentives to drive investment in and deployment of clean energy, energy and building efficiency, and clean transportation while also reigning in wasteful fossil fuel subsidies.

The Sierra Club endorsed Chairman Ron Wyden’s Clean Energy for America Act, landmark legislation to create a new emissions-based incentive program to spur growth in clean power plants, buildings, and transportation. This is a big, bold bill designed to build out the blueprint for a clean energy future laid out in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan through unprecedented investments in clean energy and clean transportation and the elimination of wasteful subsidies for the fossil fuel and nuclear industry. Along with these incentives, critical equity, labor, and climate benchmarks ensure that these investments will create more than 600,000 family-sustaining jobs a year and put us on the path to an equitable and just 100 percent clean energy economy. 

The 20 largest fossil fuel companies account for more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions in the modern era, all while raking in absurd profits. American taxpayers spend  $15 billion per year directly subsidizing the fossil fuel industry. In 2020, the oil, gas, and coal industry spent more than $115 million lobbying Congress in defense of these giveaways for an over 13,000 percent return on investment.

That’s why Sierra Club has also endorsed Senator Sanders and Representative Omar’s End Polluter Welfare Act, which repeals the billions in special interest subsidies that disproportionately benefit the oil, gas, and coal industries. 


President Biden has proposed that Congress pass an Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity (EECES) Standard, and polling shows strong public support for the policy. A clean grid is necessary to combat climate change, clean up our air and water, protect public health and fenceline communities, and advance electrification economy-wide, including in the buildings, transportation, and industrial sectors.

Sierra Club proposes that such a standard incorporate strong environmental, justice and labor provisions, with pillars including:

  1. AMBITION: Achieve at least 80 percent clean, carbon pollution-free electricity in the power sector by 2030 and 100 percent by 2035, as well as significant reductions of other forms of toxic land, water and air pollution resulting from electricity generation. This should be part of a larger strategy for achieving 100% clean energy generation throughout the United States, with priority given to deployment of renewable energy.

  2. “CLEAN” DEFINITION: Define “clean” electricity as electricity from pollution-free sources, such as renewable energy and energy efficiency. A CES should specifically exclude electricity produced from dirty and dangerous forms of power including coal, gas, new nuclear, new large hydro, or biomass/waste incineration. A CES should also ensure a reduction in pollution from coal and gas power as quickly as possible.

  3. POLLUTION AND ENERGY BURDENED COMMUNITIES: A CES should be designed so that all the benefits of clean electricity are reaching overburdened communities and historically redlined communities where pollution and energy burdens are high. These benefits include pollution reductions, local clean energy investments, and lower electricity costs. Investments should be coupled with equitable hiring and contracting practices. 

  4. GOOD JOBS: A federal CES should be designed to create and retain high-quality, good-paying union jobs while prioritizing investments in impacted communities, and disadvantaged  communities and communities whose economies have historically depended on fossil fuels.

  5. STATE AND LOCAL LEADERSHIP: A federal CES should not infringe on state and local policies that go beyond a federal approach in accelerating the transition to clean electricity. 

  6. INCLUSIVE PROCESS & COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: A strong and just CES will include frontline communities in the development and implementation of the policy.

  7. ENFORCEABILITY: A CES should include a strong compliance obligation to ensure requirements are met.



Through the EPA, the Biden administration has important opportunities to implement new clean air and clean water safeguards to protect communities from coal and gas plant pollution, and limit emissions of methane from upstream oil and gas operations. The major sources of fossil fuel pollution like power plants, oil and gas fields, and refineries are responsible for large quantities of emissions that have negative consequences for public health and harm the climate. 

Strong action right now will improve our air and water quality, and will protect the public health of vulnerable communities as we reduce carbon emissions to meet NDC targets. 


The Departments of the Interior and Agriculture have important roles to play in meeting President Biden’s climate goals. Nearly one-quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil fuels mined and drilled on national public lands. In addition, one of the easiest and most cost-effective means of reducing carbon pollution is the conservation and restoration of old growth forests across land ownerships. 

It’s time to ensure that our ecosystems, communities, and wildlife are protected and resilient in the face of the climate crisis by partnering with Indigenous Nations and frontline communities to protect 30 percent of nature by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050

Next steps for the Biden administration and Congress could include: 

  1. Reinstating roadless protections for the Tongass National Forest and establishing a forest carbon reserve system.

  2. Restoring and extending protections for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments.

  3. Completing the oil and gas leasing program review, phasing out fossil fuel development, and permanently banning new drilling and mining on public lands.

  4. Canceling the existing leases, sold by the Trump Administration, in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

  5. Reinstating the Obama-era reforms for the western coal program.

  6. Establishing a Civilian Climate Corps to help maintain and restore parks and public lands, and provide valuable job training and work experience to members of underserved communities.