Are the ambitious cuts and new pledges from Biden’s climate summit enough?
President Joe Biden convened a two-day virtual climate summit on 22 – 23 April attended by heads of state of 40 nations. It included both some of the world’s top emitting countries and some small island nations that are already suffering the most severe impacts of climate change despite being the least responsible for it. Among those who attended were Chinese president Xi Jinping, Russian president Vladimir Putin, German chancellor Angela Merkel, UK prime minister Boris Johnson, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi, and Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison. Corporate executives, trade union heads, Bill Gates, and Pope Francis also attended, as did top executives from the US government, bank and multinational company heads.
The summit was closely followed by climate policy experts and activists. Symbolically timed on Earth Day, an annual event celebrated around the world since 1970 to demonstrate support for environmental protection and the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement, the summit was one of Biden’s election campaign commitments on climate, together with re-joining the Paris Agreement.
It is good that the US is “back” after four years of climate denialism by the Trump government. Biden’s climate summit also shows the US’ intention to reassert climate leadership by putting forward what it sees as ambitious and feasible carbon-reduction pledges for the US. Veteran US climate negotiator John Kerry was also pragmatic when he said at the summit’s opening that the new US pledge of 52% reduction by 2030 was not enough, but it’s “the best we can do today“
Tackling climate emergency
The summit was the first in a series of gatherings which will take place ahead of the crucial UN COP26 climate talks in Scotland later this year. The others are the G7 Summit in Cornwall in June, the UN Biodiversity Conference in Kunming and the G20 Summit in Rome in October. All these important discussions will lead to a global non-binding but symbolic goal to advance the Paris Agreement’s aspirations of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C.
Countries that signed the Paris Agreement are submitting their new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), public commitments to address climate change. The US new NDC includes halving its domestic emissions by 2030 and doubling public climate finance to developing countries to $6bn a year by 2024. This is a part of Biden’s $2.25tn green jobs plan.
The US target of 50-52% is the among the top four strongest pledges from advanced economies. The UK is committed to 63% below 2005 levels and the EU, whose NDC of at least 55% below 1990 levels translates to around at least 51% below 2005 levels. Switzerland’s commitment is also at 51%.
The world’s richest country should be the most responsible for fighting climate change
Climate justice campaigners in the US and globally argue that the new US NDC is not a fair share NCD. A total U.S. fair share model contribution to global mitigation must include a reduction of at least 70% domestically by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. Additionally, the US government should not just stop at an ambitious domestic reduction, but should also provide appropriate climate finance support to poor countries. An international climate finance contribution of at least $800 billion between 2021-2030 is a fair share, equally distributed between finance for mitigation, adaptation, and for the loss and damage caused by irreversible climate change ($267 billion each).
These commitments are what the US decided as feasible for the US instead of what is appropriate for a country, which is the biggest, baddest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet. The United States has emitted more than 400 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since the birth of the industrial revolution. Cumulatively, this makes the U.S. the biggest contributor to global carbon dioxide emissions by far, having produced almost twice the amount of emissions as the second biggest emitter, China.
We are in a crucial make or break decade for slowing climate change. An NDC for all countries to be a good and fair share NDC should not endorse the concept of “net zero” or “net reduction,” and other mechanisms that allow business-as-usual emissions to continue.
Apart from the discussion on ambition, which was also discussed in Boris Johnson’s Climate Ambition Summit (Sprint to Glasgow) last December, the attendees also discussed issues around innovation, finance and economic recovery. Some issues being criticised by climate justice movements like the bigger role of private capital in propelling clean energy and building resilience, nature-based solutions to climate change were also high up in the agenda.
We need system change
The Summit elicited varied reactions from various experts. A letter from the Dalai Lama and 100 Nobel laureates to Biden mentioned the fact that fossil fuel industry continues to plan new projects. Banks continue to fund new projects. A 120% increase in coal, oil, and gas to be produced by 2030 is truly inconsistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. Efforts to meet the Paris agreement and to reduce demand for fossil fuels will be undermined if supply continues to grow
The COP26 Coalition, a civil society coalition made of groups and individuals from a range of constituencies in Scotland and the rest of the UK, which includes Global Justice Now, organised “From the Ground Up II” to respond to Biden’s summit. It is a four-day online gathering with workshops, strategy discussion and a movement assembly. The Coalition’s statement in the Global Press Conference said, “Global summits dominated by rich countries and corporations — whether it’s the Biden summit or the Group of Seven (G7) in June — will not put people before profit or offer real change.” With the same realisation, the Coalition is set to mobilise for COP26 in November.
Photo: Common Dreams