United States President-elect Joe Biden has announced that the US will host a climate summit of the world’s major economies before the end of March 2021. Biden has already committed the US re-joining the Paris Climate Agreement on the day of his inauguration in January.
The announcement follows a virtual "Climate Ambition Summit" co-hosted by the UN, the United Kingdom, Britain, France, Italy, and Chile on 12-13 Decmber which was organised to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris accord and was held in lieu of the originally-scheduled COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, which will now happen in November 2021.
The US government did not take part in the virtual summit, as outgoing US President Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement became effective on 4 November. Other important national economies that were excluded from the CLimate Action Summit included Russia, Saudi Arabia and Mexico due to failure to commit to climate targets aligned to the original Paris accord; Australia’s commitments were viewed to be inadequate; Brazil’s not credible.
Interestingly, US representatives at the virtual meeting did include governors of Michigan and Massachusetts and US business leaders such as Apple’s chief executive.
The Climate Ambition Summit saw more information made available from more than 70 countries of how greenhouse gas emission reductions would be managed and the goal to limit temperature rises to below 2C above pre-industrial levels would be achieved.
New developments at the Summit included 45 countries strethening targets for 2030, 24 announced net-zero goals and 20 set out new plans to build resilience. Notably, Pakistan said it will stop building coal-fired power plants, the UK will stop financing overseas fossil fuel projects, Barbados aims to be fossil fuel-free by 2030, Colombia will more than halve its emissions by 2030 and Canada will raise its carbon taxes to $134 USD per tonne by 2030.
Biden's statement said “I’ll immediately start working with my counterparts around the world to do all that we possibly can, including by convening the leaders of major economies for a climate summit within my first 100 days in office … We’ll elevate the incredible work cities, states and businesses have been doing to help reduce emissions and build a cleaner future. We’ll listen to and engage closely with the activists, including young people, who have continued to sound the alarm and demand change from those in power".
The President-elect once again pledged to put the US on a path to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, for the benefit of the US economy and workers: “We’ll do all of this knowing that we have before us an enormous economic opportunity to create jobs and prosperity at home and export clean American-made products around the world.”
The net zero emissions target of the US by 2050 is considered globally crucial, for without that leadership the overall goals are unlikely to be met. Going forward, including the renewed US commitment, countries accounting for more than two-thirds of global emissions are subject to net zero targets around mid-century. These economies include the EU, the United Kingdom, Japan and South Korea. China has pledged to meet net zero by 2060, and a large number of smaller developing countries have also embraced the goal.
António Guterres, the UN secretary general, welcomed Biden’s statement. It sends an “important signal” to the rest of the world.
“We look forward to a very active US leadership in climate action from now on as US leadership is absolutely essential”, said Guterres. “The US is the largest economy in the world, it’s absolutely essential for our goals to be reached".
Experts say current commitments put forward by the international community in the past five years have already improved the long-term outlook on climate change, making worst-case scenarios less likely by the end of the century.
However, climate-related disasters such as wildfires in the Amazon, Australia and America, floods in Bangladesh and East Africa, violent storms in Central America, and record temperatures in the Arctic have highlighted the impact an increase of 1.2 C since pre-industrial times is already having on the planet.
COP26 is expected to see significant negotiation over offering financial support for poor countries to cope with climate change, and fine-tuning of the rules for international markets in emissions trading.
“If we don’t change course, we may be headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of more than 3 C this century,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, urging world leaders to declare a “climate emergency".