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After Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate, Turning Talk into Action © 2013 Robert S. Donovan. Licensable under the Creative Commons License.

After Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate, Turning Talk into Action

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President Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate, held on Earth Day, was an opportunity for the Administration to lay out its climate agenda to 40 world leaders. 

President Biden opened the summit by announcing a new target to halve emissions by the United States from 2005 levels by 2030 – to “set America on a path of net-zero emissions economy by no later than 2050.” This commitment nearly doubled the Obama Administration’s 2015 target to cut emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels.  

In addition to this new emissions pledge, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III emphasized that tackling climate change is vital to national security. Haines told world leaders that the intelligence community will integrate climate change into every aspect of threat analysis. President Biden also announced a new U.S. International Climate Finance Plan that would double annual U.S. public climate finance to developing countries by 2024. 

By holding the first U.S.-hosted climate summit of its kind, the Biden Administration hoped to drum up support for more aggressive international action to cut global warming emissions and promote green development. 

The rest of the world’s Top 10 greenhouse gas emitters – China, the European Union, India, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, Canada, and South Korea (Iran was not invited  to attend the summit) – expressed willingness to cooperate on climate change, though with varying levels of specificity and ambition. 

 

Canada, South Korea, and Japan each announced new climate pledges at the summit, while the European Union passed a new Climate Law right before the summit. 

European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

  • Highlighted Europe’s first ever Climate Law passed by the European Parliament and the EU’s 27 member states in April 2021. The law sets binding targets for carbon emissions to make Europe climate-neutral by 2050.  The EU has also agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030. 
  • Called for a new global benchmark for climate neutrality, including a shared commitment to reduce emissions by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. 
  • Emphasized the opportunity of climate action and green investment as an engine for economic recovery and growth. 

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga

  • Announced Japan’s aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 46% by 2030 from 2013 levels and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. 
  • Emphasized Japan’s commitment to maximize use of decarbonized power sources and incentivize private investment in renewable energy.

Korean President President Moon Jae-in

  • Committed to increasing (by an unspecified amount) his government’s current emissions reductions target – which would reduce emissions by 24.4% from the 2017 level by 2030.
  • Announced that South Korea would halt public financing of foreign coal power projects. 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

  • Announced that Canada would enhance its emissions reduction target under the Paris Agreement to 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030.  

 

China, Russia, India and Brazil did not pledge any new targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – though they expressed commitment to international cooperation to combat climate change during the summit. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping:

  • Expressed China’s commitment to green, low-carbon development and multilateral cooperation on climate change, recalling the U.S. Joint Statement Addressing the Climate Crisis
  • Reiterated China’s development goal of reaching peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060 – though China’s 14th Five-Year Plan would allow emissions to continue rising in the short term. 
  • Highlighted China’s commitment to South-South cooperation to strengthen the capacity and resilience of developing countries against climate change through financing, technology, and capacity building, including through Belt and Road cooperation. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin:

  • Expressed that Russia shares in the international community’s “deep mutual concern” over climate change. 
  • Emphasized that a top priority task from his annual Address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation was to “substantially limit” Russia’s emissions by 2050 – though Russia’s draft climate plan, released in March, would allow emissions to increase from current levels through 2030. 
  • Stated that Russia’s greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by half since the 1990s (though this was due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union rather than concerted climate action). 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi:

  • Made no new commitments, but outlined India-U.S. climate partnership through the “U.S.-India Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership”. The partnership aims to facilitate an ambitious climate agenda  by mobilizing finance, installing and scaling clean energy technologies, and building capacity to measure and adapt to climate-related impacts. 

Brazilian Prime Minister Jair Bolsonaro:

  • Pledged that Brazil would reach emissions neutrality by 2050 and would increase funding for environmental enforcement efforts that combat Amazon rainforest deforestation, among other tasks. 
  • Called for the international community to support Brazil’s climate efforts – a reversal from his previous position that criticized international involvement in domestic environmental affairs. 

Indonesian President Joko Widodo

  • Underscored Indonesia’s commitment to controlling climate change as vital to its national interests, welcoming global partnerships for green development. 
  • Stated that he welcomed other countries’ target to net-zero emissions by 2050 while declining to set such a target for Indonesia. 

 

Looking Ahead

While the summit was notable in bringing U.S. allies and adversaries together to discuss climate change – particularly in the context of ongoing rifts over human rights, trade, and security with Russia and China – the United States and the European Union were alone among the top five emitters in announcing new or concrete commitments. 

Ahead of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland this November, the Biden Administration faces the steep challenge of restoring the credibility of the United States as a climate leader. The history of U.S. administrations bouncing in and out of climate and environment agreements– from the Kyoto Protocol to the Paris Agreement – hampers the confidence other countries have in American commitments. 

Legislative action on climate is necessary to cement President Biden’s 50-52% reduction target for this decade and to challenge other nations to pursue similarly ambitious aims. Indeed, President Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan includes a clean energy standard, which would set the U.S. power section on the path to carbon neutrality by 2035, as well as large-scale investment in clean energy technology and electric vehicle manufacturing. 

The United States must now meet the ambitious targets President Biden laid out and galvanize other countries to action. However, the Biden Administration’s ability to follow through will largely depend on whether it can spur concrete domestic action and slash emissions across all sectors of the economy, with largest reductions required in the electricity and transportation sectors

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