President Joe Biden opened the US climate summit on Thursday with a plea for action and unity from all nations of the world.
“This is the decisive decade,” Mr Biden said via video-link. The two-day summit, to coincide with Earth Day, is being held entirely virtually amid the ongoing Covid pandemic.
Every head of state invited to the summit is attending, setting an optimistic tone for the milestone event, aimed at driving ambition to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions heating the planet, on the road to the UN talks in Glasgow later this year.
Mr Biden thanked world leaders for attending and said that their leadership showed “people of every nation”, particularly young people, that they were willing to meet the crisis head on.
“The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable. The cost of inaction keeps mounting. The United States isn’t waiting. We are resolving to take action. Not only our federal government but our cities and our states, all across our country, small businesses, large businesses, large corporations, American workers in every field,” Mr Biden said.
However, he noted that the US made up less than 15 per cent of global emissions and that it would require a monumental global shift to avoid a climate emergency.
“We have to move, we have to move quickly to meet these challenges,” the president added.
“The steps our countries take between now and Glasgow will set the world up for success to protect livelihoods around the world and keep global warming at a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“ We must get on the path now in order to do that.“If we do, we’ll breathe easier, literally and figuratively.”
Biden announced a new US target to achieve a 50-52 per cent reduction from 2005 levels of greenhouse gas pollution in 2030. Mr Biden has promised to set America on a path to net-zero emissions no later than 2050.
The target is non-binding but nevertheless symbolically important, and would give the US a renewed position of credibility from which to press other nations to increase their goals.
Vice President Kamala Harris was also in attendance at the summit’s opening, along with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and international climate envoy John Kerry.
VP Harris noted that disadvantaged communities around the world are being hardest hit by the climate crisis.
Among the first leaders to speak at the opening session were Chinese President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, British PM Boris Johnson and Japan’s PM Yoshihide Suga.
Some 40 world leaders will participate in the two-day summit, coinciding with Earth Day, including the US’s fellow largest polluters, China, India and Russia.