Biden climate summit: Biggest takeaways as president warns of ‘moral imperative’ to act on crisis

Louise Boyle
·5-min read
(From L-R) Climate envoy John Kerry, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and President Biden listen as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks on screen during the climate summit from the East Room of the White House on 22 April (AFP via Getty Images)
(From L-R) Climate envoy John Kerry, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and President Biden listen as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks on screen during the climate summit from the East Room of the White House on 22 April (AFP via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden brought the White House’s climate summit to a close on Friday, saying that nations had a “moral imperative” to act for future generations, and must implement the promises made.

“The commitments we’ve made must become real,” President Biden said. “Commitment without doing anything is a lot of hot air, no pun intended.”

He added: “This is a moment for all of us to build better economies for our children, our grandchildren, and all of us to thrive ... not just now, but beyond for the next generations.”

The virtual event marked a symbolic return for the US to the global climate fight after four years of inertia by the Trump administration, and the former president’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Some 40 world leaders joined by CEOs, activists and Pope Francis were invited to the event, held online due to Covid-19. All invited leaders attended, a hopeful sign in addressing the collective emergency. The milestone talks were aimed at driving ambition ahead of the United Nations climate summit, the Cop26, in Glasgow this November.

These are the biggest takeaways from the two-day talks.

US pledges new emissions reduction target

At the opening of the summit, Mr Biden pledged that the US will cut carbon emissions as much as 52 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

It means that the US now ranks among the most ambitious nations in tackling the climate crisis, according to research group Rhodium.

Mr Biden’s promise will require a dramatic overhaul of how America runs: sweeping changes to the power sector and transportation, and rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

Handful of countries update goals to cut pollution

South Korea, Japan, Canada and South Africa all brought new emissions targets along to the summit.

Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga announced an emissions reduction target of at least 46 per cent, below 2013 levels, by 2030.

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau said the country would slash emissions 40 to 45 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa said his country would see emissions begin to decline from 2025, a decade earlier than previously announced.

South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in said that it would stop public financing of new coal-fired power plants.

Meanwhile, the UK announced earlier this week that it will slash emissions by 78 per cent by 2035, from 1990 levels. The European Union also passed legislation to cut emissions by 55 per cent.

Other leaders touted their projects to transition away from fossil fuels. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described hundreds of Israeli start-ups working to improve crucial battery storage for solar, wind and other renewable energy. Mette Frederiksen, PM of Denmark, renewed the country’s pledge to end oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.

The White House said that the new pledges mean more than half of the global economy is now committed to the pace of emission reductions required to keep to a 1.5C target.

Promises of cooperation amid broader tensions

Fraught geopolitical issues, such as trade and human rights, were put to one side for the summit in order to address the singular issue of the climate crisis.

President Xi Jinping said that China would work alongside the US but made no new emissions pledge, reiterating his announcement from last year that the superpower aimed to reach peak emissions by 2030, and be carbon neutral by 2060. He added that the country would “strictly control” coal projects, and limit increases in the fossil fuel consumption over the next five years.

President Vladimir Putin pledged international climate cooperation, saying he had ordered to “significantly cut the accumulated volume of net emissions” by 2050 in Russia. He refrained from giving a specific target.

“Russia is genuinely interested in galvanising international cooperation so as to look further for effective solutions to climate change as well as to all other vital challenges,” Mr Putin said.

While Brazil’s right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro pointed the finger at developed nations for “burning fossil fuels in the course of the past two centuries”, he also offered a somewhat conciliatory tone on protecting the Amazon, a crucial carbon sink.

He said that he would eliminate illegal deforestation in Brazil by 2030 but that his country requires outside financing to protect the world’s largest tropical rainforest. He also vowed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, 10 years earlier than he had previously pledged.

US pledges to double public climate finance to developing countries by 2024

The US said on Thursday that it would commit to double the funding in the next three years, relative to the average level during President Barack Obama’s second term.

As part of the plan, the White House said it also intends to triple its adaptation finance by 2024, and will work with Congress to meet the targets.

US and India launch joint “Clean Energy 2030 Partnership”

The partnership aims to drive ambitious action and support India’s targets, including increasing its share of renewable energy by 2030.

The bilateral agreement will seek out funding for clean energy projects such as tech which can reduce carbon emissions across the board from industry, transportation, power, and buildings. The partnership will also expand adaptation measures to worsening climate impacts.

Wires contributed to this report

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