Biden's Climate Leaders Summit

What did we get at the US Climate Leaders Summit?

We’ve had a big step forward to give thanks for, and we need to pray for many more. I guess that’s the verdict on the climate summit President Biden hosted on 22-23 April. 

It was an online summit of 40 government leaders, most from big polluting countries, plus some smaller emitters already hit hard by climate change, together with Antonio Guterres, the Pope, Bill Gates, etc. Just the fact of it is encouraging, the US back on board on climate - things have changed. It’s also good news to have China and the US, the climate co-operating again, even if the partnership isn’t yet easy. 

Here are the main announcements:

  • US: Increased their 2030 emissions reduction target to 50-52%. This isn’t enough to be their fair share, but it’s a huge improvement on anything they’ve done before. The same goes for their plan to double their climate finance by 2024.
  • EU: Passed the first European Climate Law just before the summit, with targets of 55% emissions cuts 1990-2030 and net zero by 2050.
  • Canada: Their new target is 40-45% emissions cuts 2005-2030. This is a bit disappointing really, a step forward but smaller than we’d hoped.
  • Japan: Increased their target from 26% to 46% cuts 2013-2030. Again, this is a moderate improvement but we’ll need more. They showed willing by cancelling plans for a coal power station. 
  • South Africa:  Their emissions will peak in 2025, 10 years earlier than in their current NDC, with 28% emissions cuts by 2030 - that’s a significant improvement.
  • UK: Increased their emissions reduction target to 78% 1990-2035, the best of the G20, and a good signal from the COP hosts.
  • South Korea: They’ll end financing of coal overseas. Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel, and South Korea fund a lot of it, so this matters.
  • China: They didn’t make a new climate commitment, which was probably unlikely at an event hosted by the US, but they did make a new promise to reach peak coal by 2025 and reduce it 2026-2030. 
  • Brazil improved their date to get to net zero from 2060 to 2050, and promised to end illegal deforestation by 2030, but chose the next day to cut their environment agency’s budget, which shows what they really think.
There wasn’t much to celebrate from Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, or Australia either. They all said how important climate action is and listed things they were doing, you can’t appear on an international stage unless you say that now, but there’s not much sign of delivering yet. That said, if Saudi Arabia really do hit their target get half their energy from renewable sources by 2030, backed up by planting 10 billion trees, then it truly will be celebration time. 

What does it mean for us?

This all takes 12% off the big gap between what we look likely to be emitting in 2030, and the most we can emit to have a good chance of limiting warming to the safer level of 1.5 degrees. Have a look at Climate Action Tracker's graphic here for more info. 

This isn’t a game. We need a lot less greenhouse gas and a lot more money, millions of human lives and much of the rest of creation are at stake, and we need much faster progress than this. But in a way it is a game too, as governments have diplomatic conversations, make new announcements, see how others respond, and decide how much further to go, so we’ve just had a good move in the climate diplomacy game, and we’ve got momentum for more on the road to COP in November.  

Of course big targets won’t change anything by themselves, but countries are far more likely to make rapid changes to halve global emissions by 2030 if they’ve got a big target saying they will - and if we constantly remind them about it. We will.

If you want to know more, E3G’s blog was good and Climate Action Tracker have great number crunching.

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