Virtual climate summit seeks stronger commitments from big emitting countries

US attempts to underline its climate credentials by committing to halving its emissions by 2030

The Biden administration has pledged to slash US greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, a new target it hopes will spur other big emitter countries to raise their ambition to combat climate change. Video: Reuters

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 US president Joe Biden has committed the US to a 50-52 per cent reduction in its carbon emissions by 2030; doubling its ambition set out in the Paris Agreement in an attempt to get the world’s highest carbon emitting countries to at least match that target.

In a far-reaching announcement for the US economy that includes a target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, Mr Biden stressed at a virtual summit of global leaders that preventing a climate catastrophe would not be resolved without accelerated collaboration.

“No nation can solve this crisis on our own,” Mr Biden said from the White House. “All of us, and particularly those of us who represent the world’s largest economies, we have to step up.”

The new US pledge, which will put it on a path towards net-zero emissions no later than 2050, is aimed at encouraging high-emission countries, including China, India and Brazil, to set their own aggressive emissions-reductions targets in advance of the UN Cop26 global gathering in November – in effect committing to the pace of emissions reduction required globally to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

Over recent days the EU, the UK, Japan, Canada and South Korea have increased their ambition to varying degrees for the coming decade – all G7 economies are now on a path to net-zero by 2050.

UN secretary general António Guterres set the backdrop for the summit by highlighting the fragility of Planet Earth. “Mother Nature is not waiting . . . We need a green planet – but the world is on red alert,” he said.

With the planet at the verge of the abyss “leaders everywhere must take action . . . by building a global coalition for net-zero emissions by mid-century – every country, every region, every city, every company and every industry,” he said.

All countries – starting with major emitters – should submit new and more ambitious “nationally determined contributions” for mitigation, adaptation and finance, laying out actions and policies for the next 10 years aligned with a 2050 net-zero pathway, said Mr Guterres.

“So far only 18 to 24 per cent of pandemic-recovery spending is expected to contribute to mitigating emissions, reducing air pollution or strengthening natural capital,” he noted.

Trillions of dollars needed for Covid-19 recovery “is money we are borrowing from future generations. We cannot use these resources to lock in policies that burden them with a mountain of debt on a broken planet”.

Productivity

Chinese president Xi Jinping called for a “people-centred” approach to the climate crisis. “We must be committed to green development – green mountains are gold mountains, to protect the environment is to protect productivity and to boost the environment is to boost productivity. The truth is as simple as that.”

He confirmed China would strive to peak emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. “We will strictly control coal-fired carbon power projects, we will strictly limit the increase in coal consumption.”

His comments imply China’s coal consumption, by far the highest in the world, will peak in 2025 and start to fall thereafter.

President Vladimir Putin promised to “significantly reduce” Russia’s net accumulated emissions over the next three decades, but did not set out any changes to its modest targets.

French president Emmanuel Macron said the world needed to factor the environment into investment costs and trade, and without that there could be no transition to a greener economy. “Taking action for the climate means regulating, and regulating at an international level. If we don’t set a price for carbon, there will be no transition.”

Striking a conciliatory note, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro set out an improved 2050 goal for carbon neutrality, and pledged to double funds available for inspection and enforcement activities in the Amazon rainforest.

Obligations

Speaking on climate adaptation and resilience, Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan said Ireland’s targets “are some of the most ambitious of any developed country, fully in line with our Paris Agreement obligations”.

“We have already shown leadership in our international development policy and intend to at least double the percentage of our official development assistance spending on climate finance by 2030,” he added.

“We must continue to support local communities in the least developed countries, including small-scale farmers, to use land sustainably to protect and regenerate local ecosystems,” Mr Ryan said.

“We will champion this issue at the UN General Assembly this September, and at the COP26 meeting. We will also continue to support efforts on the ground to promote climate-smart agriculture.”

He said as a country with a large agriculture sector the Government realised producing more food while combating climate change was one of the most important policy changes required both nationally and internationally. “Climate solutions here at home need to support adaptation and resilience for family farms.”

Quality adaptation work that prioritises nature-based solutions was not simply important for climate and biodiversity, it could also help build peace. “This is a linkage which Ireland makes into our wider climate diplomacy work, including in our leadership role on the UN Security Council in the area of climate and security.”