Some Countries Commit, Others Deflect as White House Pushes for Faster Carbon Cuts
The Biden-Harris Leaders’ Summit on Climate was scheduled to open with statements from leaders of more than two dozen countries, in what the White House signposted as “an opportunity for leaders to highlight the climate-related challenges their countries face and the efforts they are undertaking”.
Here’s a run-down of the day’s commitments.
Like this story? Subscribe to The Energy Mix and never miss an edition of our free e-digest.
United States: 50 to 52% emissions reduction below 2005 levels by 2030 and restrictions on financing of overseas fossil fuel projects.
Canada: 40 to 45% emissions reduction below 2005 levels by 2030, with additional measures to meet net-zero by 2050.
United Kingdom: 78% emissions reduction below 1990 levels by 2035, including a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the 2015 Paris Agreement that includes emissions from international shipping and aviation for the first time. The UK supports ending support for fossil fuels overseas and doubling international climate finance.
“If we actually want to stop climate change, then this must be the year in which we get serious about doing so. Because the 2020s will be remembered either as the decade in which world leaders united to turn the tide, or as a failure,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson, based on his prepared remarks for the summit. “Let the history books show that it was this generation of leaders that possessed the will to preserve our planet for generations to come,” added Johnson, whose updated NDC was described earlier this week as “a bit of a Boris blunderbuss”.
European Union: The EU confirmed a 55% emissions reduction below 1990 levels by 2030 and a target of “climate neutrality” by 2050, a week after seven European countries agreed to put an end to export financing for fossil fuels. While politicians in Germany welcomed the EU deal, Clean Energy Wire says EU member states remain divided on its implementation, while The Guardian has environmental groups declaring the new target a failure.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the 55% goal, an improvement over the continent’s previous 40% threshold, will “put the EU on a green path for a generation”. But European parliamentarians had sought a 60% commitment. “The ‘at least 55% emission reduction target for 2030’ is not in line with the Paris agreement’s ambition to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C by the end of the century,” said Climate Action Network-Europe Director Wendel Trio. “Today’s agreement is not a victory for climate action, it’s a farce,” agreed Barbara Mariani, senior policy officer for climate and energy with the European Environmental Bureau.
Germany: 55% emissions reduction below 1990 by 2030, coal-fired electricity phaseout by 2030, and further investments in renewable energy.
Italy: The country has made climate one of the main priorities for its year in the G20 presidency. Italy will devote 10% of its budget to green infrastructure, circular economy, and sustainable mobility.
Japan: The country almost doubled its emissions reduction target to 46% below 2013 levels, with “neutrality” by 2050, after adopting a two-page partnership with the U.S. on “ambition, decarbonization, and clean energy”. The Japan Climate Initiative said the target was just 1% higher than its 291 members had asked for. No Coal Japan welcomed the Japan-U.S. commitment to align public finance with a 2050 target for net-zero emissions, but pressed the country to withdraw financing from two coal projects.
“Japan deserves recognition for adopting a new climate target that is a significant and important improvement over the very weak one that it submitted a year ago,” said Helen Mountford, vice president, climate and economics at the World Resources Institute. “Given the sharp decline in the price of renewables and electric vehicles over the last five years and strong business support for bold action, Japan should aim to cut emissions by 50%, as Prime Minister Suga said the government will strive to do. This will be important so that Japan does not lag behind its peers as the world races towards a clean energy future, or lose out on the economic opportunities from a cleaner, healthier, low-carbon economy.”
China: The country will strive to peak emissions before 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2060. Pledged strict controls on coal-fired power plant construction over the next five years, with a phasedown of coal consumption in the next five-year plan. (The current one was just announced last month.) China also issued a joint statement with the U.S. last week, undertaking to address the climate crisis with seriousness and urgency.
The South China Morning Post says the U.S. and the EU have been pressuring China for a more aggressive climate pledge and an earlier target year for peak emissions, and most experts agree the earlier target is doable. The Guardian says Chinese President Xi Jinping “is likely to push back” against Biden’s claim to global leadership, but veteran China-based climate analyst Lauri Myllyvirta argues a healthy competition between the two superpowers can actually spur faster, deeper carbon cuts.
Climate vulnerable countries attending the Summit pushed developed countries for increased finance, particularly for climate adaptation], and for debt relief, WRI reports. The vulnerable countries attending the summit include Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Jamaica, Kenya, and the Marshall Islands.
Australia: Avidly pro-coal Prime Minister Scott Morrison entered the summit with a new technology roadmap that called for A$540 million in new carbon capture and hydrogen spending, while critics described his government as “increasingly isolated due to a lack of climate ambition,” The Guardian reports. Morrison reportedly planned to use the summit as an opportunity to troll for international partners for the plan. The Biden-Harris administration pressed Australia for faster, deeper carbon cuts, and nearly a dozen environmental and humanitarian groups from the Pacific region urged the country to reduce its emissions 50% by 2030.
Brazil: President Jair Bolsonaro offered up carbon neutrality by 2050 under pressure from the Biden-Harris administration, promised to double funding for environmental enforcement, and maintained a past target of zero illegal deforestation by 2030. But Inside Climate News says the U.S. is already looking past Brazil to Colombia to find a climate leader in the region, and Reuters writes that Brazilian environmentalists are skeptical of Bolsonaro’s sudden policy shift. “The government makes totally empty promises,” said Climate Observatory Executive Secretary Marcio Astrini.
“Bolsonaro has paid lip service to the U.S. demands, sending Biden a seven-page letter which includes figures and claims that Brazilian environmentalists say are distorted and even false,” adds Climate News Network. “But 15 U.S. Democratic senators, apparently worried that Biden might be taken in by Bolsonaro’s message, have sent him a letter of their own, asking him to link any support for Brazil to progressive reductions in deforestation.” In a post yesterday in The Guardian, two former Brazilian environment ministers say billions of dollars in new U.S. funding won’t stop the country’s “ruinous government” from “destroying the Amazon rainforest”.
India: The country announced the launch of a U.S.-India climate and energy partnership to help it reach 450 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2030. India, which ranks 87th in the World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, may still be planning a new generation of coal-fired power plants, according to a draft electricity policy reported in an exclusive by Reuters.
South Korea: The country committed to end public financing of overseas fossil projects. “I applaud South Korea for halting financing for new overseas coal plants,” Mountford said. “This is a historic step, as South Korea was one of the three biggest financial backers for coal plant construction. The announcement sends a strong signal that the era of dirty fossil fuels is coming to a close. Japan and China should quickly follow South Korea’s example and reorient their own overseas funding away from coal to clean sources of energy.”
South Africa: The country said its emissions will begin falling in 2025, a decade ahead of its previous schedule.
Russia: President Vladimir Putin said his country’s “cumulative net emissions” over the next three decades should be less than the European Union’s. “It wasn’t immediately clear how the target would be achieved in the country where fossil fuel production is the single-biggest source of budget revenue,” Bloomberg writes. But the remarks “mark a sharp turnaround from Putin’s past rhetoric on climate action, which typically includes mocking statements about renewable energy. Russia’s current commitment under the Paris Agreement implies a small increase in emissions from current levels because it uses the highly-polluting Soviet Union as its baseline.”
The Washington Post points to climate diplomacy as one area of common ground between Putin and Biden amid a mounting pile of “stress points”.
(h/t to Climate Action Network-Canada for the Day One summit summary that supplied the skeleton for this report.)