Buttigieg says climate summit an opportunity for US to regain moral leadership on crisis
(CNN) -- Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg argued on Thursday that President Joe Biden's goal to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions is vital to reasserting US leadership in fighting the climate crisis.
"We're looking for other countries to make big commitments as well, but we can't do that with a straight face if America isn't leading the way, if we're not walking the talk," Buttigieg told CNN's John Berman on "New Day."
During his virtual climate summit attended by 40 other world leaders Thursday, Biden announced an ambitious goal of reducing the United States' greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% below its 2005 emissions levels by 2030. The US is the world's second-biggest polluter behind China, which has said it will continue to increase carbon emissions through at least the end of the decade.
Although the Biden administration has not outlined a plan for how it will achieve this goal, the rhetoric marks a significantly different approach than that of former President Donald Trump, who denied climate change science and whose administration rolled back several environmental policies.
On CNN Thursday, Buttigieg called it "disastrous" that the Trump administration left the United States' "seat at the table empty" on the issue.
"And that's why it's so important today that we are convening -- virtually, but still convening -- in the US a summit of leaders around the world who don't agree on much, but who recognize just how important this is," he said.
Buttigieg told CNN that Biden's "big, bold, but achievable commitment" on greenhouse gas emissions is going to help America "resume that position of US leadership and then challenge the other nations of the world to be part of the solution as well."
China, the largest contributor of planet-warming gases, aims to reach peak carbon emissions by the end of the decade and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
Asked about China's plans compared to the US, Buttigieg said, "It's natural for America to be leading the way. That's what Americans are used to be doing. You know, the posture we're used to having. And then challenging the other countries of the world to catch up."
Regarding the sacrifices Americans may have to make to meet Biden's goal to cut emissions, Buttigieg said, "It's going to take a national effort, but this is not a matter of something that can be done just by asking individual Americans to make individual choices."
"This is a matter of policy," he added, while also acknowledging that Biden's goal is a "huge lift."
Pressed again on what Americans might have to give up, Buttigieg did not provide anything specific and replied, "I think this is being characterized as if it's about our personal habits. Certainly, we ought to be paying attention to our personal carbon footprints, but this is a lot bigger than this."
"It's not in the context of your daily routine that you'll modernize the US energy grid. But it is the case we have to make that choice as a country, and we have to make those policies that are going to make it possible," he said.
Climate is also a big focus of the President's roughly $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, the American Jobs Plan, and Buttigieg, as transportation secretary, is heavily involved in discussions with lawmakers and in pitching the plan to the American public.
Biden's plan calls for $621 billion spent on roads, bridges, public transit, rail, ports, waterways, airports and electric vehicles aimed at improving air quality, reducing congestion and limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
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