Today, on Earth Day, the United States made a bold move to resume international leadership on climate change by announcing the United States’ new target to achieve a 50 to 52 percent reduction in economy-wide greenhouse gas pollution from 2005 levels by 2030.  The President announced the target on the first day of the Leaders Summit on Climate, which he is hosting to raise ambition and set the stage for a successful United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) later this year in Glasgow.

The target, which will be submitted to the UNFCCC as the United States’ nationally determined contribution (NDC), reflects a significant increase in ambition and is intended to catalyze similarly ambitious goals from other major emitters to achieve the objective of the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The President situates the new target squarely within his recently announced American Jobs Plan, which proposes $2.2 trillion dollars of investments in rebuilding American infrastructure, reaching far behind the traditional notions of roads and bridges.  The American Jobs Plan – or “AJP” – is a sweeping effort to transition the United States to a net-zero economy by mid-century and create jobs for Americans.

So how will the elements of the AJP support the United States’ new NDC?  In this series, we will take a deep dive into distinct features and themes within the AJP and explore how they support the United States’ climate ambition.  We start with the letter “A” – the ARPA-C initiative – and will finish with the letter “Z” – for Zero, Net emissions, to illustrate how the Biden Administration’s “whole-of-government” approach targets emissions throughout the economy, in pursuit of both the NDC and net-zero emissions by mid-century.  We will explore questions like:

  • How might the suite of investments reflected by the AJP stack up against explicit carbon prices imposed in other jurisdictions?
  • How should the AJP’s investments be factored into any “carbon border adjustment” of the sort proposed by the European Union?
  • What action must be taken by Congress or agencies to affirm the credibility of the United States’ NDC to the international community before COP26?

ARPA-C

Modeled after the military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the AJP proposes that Congress establish ARPA-C to invest $35 billion in research on climate science, innovation and technology, with the ultimate goal of re-establishing the United States as a leader in clean energy technology and jobs.  This includes a $5 billion increase in climate-focused research, along with $15 billion for demonstration projects in priority areas, including carbon capture and storage (CCS), hydrogen, floating offshore wind, and advanced nuclear.

DARPA and ARPA-E are both intended to fund high-risk, high-reward projects that might not otherwise be pursued.  We can therefore anticipate that ARPA-C may similarly focus on cutting-edge research and demonstration projects, all consistent with the AJP’s goals of seeding investments in technology that could create significant jobs for American workers.  This could include CCS for hard-to-abate sectors, where the possibilities for pipefitters and other union jobs in constructing pipeline infrastructure are apparent. Additionally, reflecting the Administration’s commitment to viewing progress on climate change through the lends of progress on environmental justice, agencies have already begun asking for information on a proposed project’s impacts on environmental justice and disadvantaged communities in soliciting proposals for research funding.

Like much of the rest of the AJP, details on the amount of funding available, priorities for research and development, and where ARPA-C is located will be left for Congress to flesh out during the reconciliation or appropriations process.