But the elections have consequences, and on Thursday, President Biden took the first step to usher in a new era of climate-centered geopolitics. At a virtual summit hosted by the White House, he and about three dozen world leaders are making new commitments and announcing new initiatives in the fight against climate change. “This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative, a time of danger but also a time of extraordinary possibility,” Biden said. “Time is short, but I think we can do it.”
To that end, the Biden administration has said it will cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by the end of the decade. The promise “nearly doubled the target the nation pledged to achieve under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, when Barack Obama promised to cut emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels.” my colleagues reported. His plan envisions a future driven by investments in green technologies and an irrevocable shift away from fossil fuels.
Biden also committed the United States to an international financial plan to help finance the decarbonisation efforts of developing economies. A long-standing thesis of officials and activists elsewhere has been that the major powers in the West, which have historically contributed the most to the blanket of greenhouse gases enveloping the atmosphere, should do more to rectify this legacy.
Trump opposed this logic; the Biden administration, to some extent, is embracing it. “We hear people talking about this existential being,” former Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Biden’s special envoy for climate, said in an interview with the Washington Post Wednesday. “For many people on the planet, it already is. But we are not behaving internationally as if it were, in fact, an existential challenge “.
Several leaders attending the Biden summit announced updated commitments. Japan raised its emissions reduction target to a 46% cut from 2013 levels by 2030. Britain, the host of a major UN climate summit in Glasgow this November, has said it will cut emissions by 78% by 2035, compared to 1990 levels. The European Union has announced a 55% cut by 2030, also from 1990 levels.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country, the largest emitter in the world, will gradually reduce coal consumption in the second half of this decade. Climate policy observers have been quietly satisfied the detection of coal in Xi’s remarks. Prior to the summit, Kerry and Chinese interlocutors issued a joint statement stating both countries’ intention to keep global temperatures rising “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. and possibly to keep the increase at 1.5 degrees Celsius – a goal that scientists believe must be achieved to avoid a planetary emergency in the coming decades.
Given the other tensions between the world’s two largest economies, climate action can offer at least space for meaningful dialogue. But new challenges await, from technological competition to the prospect of the European Union adopting a more aggressive approach, with a proposed levy on “high-carbon” imports from countries with more permissive climate rules than the 27-member bloc. US officials are reportedly pushing against such a tax, both out of concern for their own companies and out of fear that it could jeopardize climate diplomacy with major emitters like India, Brazil and China.
One way of cooperation could be to help decarbonise the poorest countries. “The Chinese government is unlikely to accept external excitement about its domestic coal consumption, much less from America,” noted Gillian Tett of the Financial Times. “But there may be room for a US-China dialogue on the energy transition in the wider developing world, particularly if multilateral lenders engage in smart financial footwork.”
The Biden climate summit also saw a number of conspicuous laggards. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison – who once cheerfully brought a lump of coal into his country’s parliament – said his right-wing government would not increase planned emissions cuts. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, once a skeptical ally of Trump’s climate in the West Hemisphere, offered a more conciliatory tone, as my colleagues have reported. He pledged to eliminate illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030, although much of Bolsonaro’s plan would require funds from abroad, particularly from the United States, to help pay for more sustainable livelihoods for tens of millions of Brazilians living. in a region long described as the lungs of the world.
A myriad of critics have expressed their doubts about Bolsonaro’s sincerity. “He looked like another person speaking, compared to the politician who promoted the dismantling of environmental protection instruments throughout his government,” political journalist Igor Gielow wrote for the Folha newspaper.
Bolsonaro “has shown a total disregard for the environmental agenda and has done nothing to suggest that he has any intention of changing his behavior,” João Doria, governor of the state of Sao Paulo and political rival. .
Although Biden hopes to reassert US climate leadership on the world stage, he still faces a tough challenge in his backyard. Republicans in Congress will try to thwart new green legislation, while fossil fuel industry lobbyists in Washington are already arguing that Biden’s agenda means a loss of U.S. jobs and higher prices for the consumer. American.
Climate reporter Kate Aronoff told The New York Times that while the American public is increasingly supportive of the Democratic climate agenda, the Washington establishment has yet to unravel a long legacy of relaunching the fossil fuel industry overseas. , not only at home. “While a poll by Data for Progress, a progressive think tank, shows that a Green New Deal and climate smart trade policy are popular with voters,” he wrote, “any foreign policy change to the scale this crisis requires. it must survive all – from the onslaught of the fossil fuel industry, the legislators it finances, and a foreign policy institute determined to firmly restore America to the top of its beloved rules-based international order. These struggles are inevitable and worthwhile. worth having “.