Evan Vucci / AP
Calling climate change “the existential crisis of our time,” President Biden announced an aggressive new plan to reduce the US contribution to global warming during a two-day virtual summit on Thursday, and urged other countries to do so. same.
Immediacy is needed. Global mean temperatures have already risen by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1.2 degrees Celsius, since 1880, and scientists have long stressed the need to keep temperature rises below 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid scenarios. of more catastrophic climate change.
A new report Thursday from insurance company Swiss Re warns that without action, climate change could reduce global economic output by $ 23 trillion annually by mid-century.
Biden’s new plan would cut America’s greenhouse gas emissions in half, from 2005 levels, by the end of the decade – an ambitious goal that puts the United States back at the forefront of the global fight against climate change. He was joined by 40 heads of government in a virtual meeting on Earth Day and highlighted, as Biden has done several times as president, the economic opportunity to move to a more sustainable global economy.
“I see auto workers building the next generation of electric vehicles,” Biden said. “I see engineers and construction workers building new carbon capture and green hydrogen plants.”
But the United States cannot do it alone. And the Global Summit, Biden’s first major international gathering, aims to return America to a leadership role after four years of climate inaction and denial under the Trump administration. It also aims to build trust among other nations, as the United States has been the largest contributor to climate change over the past century.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, acknowledging the immense cost of transitioning the global economy, said her department is working to secure private funding to help countries move away from fossil fuels and adapt to impacts. climatic conditions that have already become inevitable. He also noted the administration’s request for $ 1.2 billion for the Green Climate Fund, an international framework designed to help developing countries – which have contributed far less to global warming – to cope with its growing impacts.
The White House has increasingly framed much of its foreign policy on countering China, so it was notable that Chinese President Xi Jinping was the first leader of another nation to speak after US officials. China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, nearly doubling US levels in recent years and funding coal-fired power both at home and in various countries.
“China has committed to moving from carbon peak to carbon neutrality in a much shorter time frame than many developed countries might take, and that requires extraordinary efforts on China’s part,” Xi said. “We will strictly control coal-fired power generation projects. We will strictly limit the increase in coal consumption.”
As world leaders took turns offering opening remarks, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson colorfully echoed Biden’s frame of work for climate action.
“It is vital for all of us to prove that this is not just an expensive, politically correct and green rabbit hug act.” Cake – eat, eat – is my message to you. “
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who aggressively withdrew environmental protections in his country, moved Brazil’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by a decade to 2050. He also pledged to eliminate illegal deforestation in the Amazon. by 2030 and said it would double the money allocated to inspections.
The Amazon, the largest area of tropical rainforest on the planet, plays a huge role in stabilizing the global climate, and scientists warn that its destruction could further destabilize the climate around the world.
The United States and Brazil have negotiated a deal on deforestation in the Amazon, but Reuters earlier this month reported that it had reached a dead end, with Brazil asking for upfront payment and the United States asking for first. results. At the summit, Bolosnaro said there must be “a fair payment for environmental services” to recognize the economic importance of conservation.
A session of the virtual summit focused on the national security risks of climate change. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called it “deeply destabilizing,” citing rising geopolitical competition in the melting Arctic, climate-fueled global migration, and threats to military bases, including growing fires. intense in California, which he said caused repeated evacuations.
Biden’s climate envoy, former Secretary of State John Kerry, spent the weeks leading up to the summit traveling the world, visiting China, India and many other countries, in order to build international support for the ‘event. The White House is framing the meeting as one of many key moments leading up to a November conference in Scotland, where leaders will update the 2015 Paris climate agreement. That conference, Kerry said, is “what it is. many of us think it’s the last best hope for us to get on track and do what we have to do. ”
The United States left the Paris climate agreement under the Trump administration. Biden began the process of rejoining his first day in office.
Kerry also echoed Biden’s message that fighting climate change offers tremendous opportunities to increase the emerging technology needed to meet the U.S. goal of reducing emissions. “The largest market the world has ever known is waiting for everyone and is growing by the day,” he said. “The challenge is whether it happens fast enough.”
Randy Bresnik / AP
The summit is an important symbolic step toward fulfilling the core themes of Biden’s presidential race: the promise to repair the damaged U.S. relationship with the rest of the world and re-engage the country in global efforts to stem the damage of climate change.
“The United States is back in the game,” Biden National Climate Councilor Gina McCarthy said recently. NPR Policy Podcast. “Clearly, I wish we hadn’t lost the four years of the previous administration, and I wish we could go back because now is the time to really take big steps forward. But we are ready and ready to … make a strong commitment.”
Biden has spoken regularly about convening a climate summit during his run to the White House, but due to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, the summit looks and feels very different from the usual meetings of heads of government.
It is entirely virtual, and world leaders have faced a number of occasional audio problems. They also joined during all hours of the day or night, depending on their location. Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged this by starting his statement by wishing everyone “good morning, good afternoon, good evening”.
To offset this challenge, the summit is spread over two days, mostly during the morning hours in Washington, DC
Jennifer Ludden of NPR contributed to this story.