World leaders onscreen during a climate change virtual summit from the East Room of the White House campus April 22, 2021, in Washington, DC.

Editor’s Note: This was excerpted from the April 23 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

CNN  — 

On Thursday, the Biden administration released much-anticipated carbon emission reduction targets for the year 2030 (known as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs), which stated the US will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% from the 2005 levels.

But why 2005? That year was likely chosen because emissions peaked around that time – and that makes the goal look bigger than it actually is. US emissions started slowly decreasing year over year between 2005 and 2007. Compared with 2005, the US is already down about 12% – consider it a head start!

Emissions are global, and to prevent catastrophic climate change, countries must work together to reduce them. There is no hard and fast rule on how much each country should contribute to the global cut.

Instead, each country sets its own nationally determined contribution, pledging to reduce its emissions in reference to some previous year, to show the progress it is making toward eventually getting its emissions down to zero (which is ultimately what it will take to end our human-induced warming of the planet). Each country can also select its own base line for progress. Just like the US, most pick a year when their emissions peaked.

But in reality, these nationally determined contributions are not worth the official government letterhead they are printed on if the countries do not follow through with their commitments. We need to see concrete plans on how the US, and other nations, will actually bring emissions down. These plans will include transition to renewables, the electrification of transportation, etc.

Until this happens, think of Thursday’s climate summit declarations as the environmental equivalent of a January 1 weight-loss resolution. It is a good start, but without following through with diet and exercise, nothing is going to change.

CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller writes for Meanwhile