GP Insights

GP Insights # 506, 25 April 2021

The US: Biden brings back the Climate change agenda
Akriti Sharma

What happened?
On 22 April, President Joe Biden hosted online a two-day "Leaders Summit on Climate." The summit aimed at addressing the climate crisis, resilience and adaptation, reduction in emissions, innovation, finance, and job creation. The summit was attended by 40 world leaders along with business leaders around the globe. 

"Time is short, but I believe we can do this," Biden said in his opening remarks. "We will do this." He also said: "As we transition to a clean energy future, we must ensure workers who have thrived in yesterday's and today's industries have as bright a tomorrow in the new industries as well as in the places where they live."

What is the background?
First, the return of the US to climate action. Earlier, on 1 June 2017, Trump announced the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. On the first day as the President, Biden announced that the US would rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. The Biden administration also appointed a Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, to look into the US climate and energy policy. By hosting the summit, Biden has brought the agenda of climate change back to the US.  He has also attempted to bring climate change back on the global agenda.

Second, the revised targets. During the summit, the US, Canada, Japan announced revised emission targets way ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference set to take place later in 2021. Biden announced that the US would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52 per cent by 2030 below 2005 levels. He further announced that the US would double its annual financing commitments to developing countries by 2024. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau announced a cut of 40 per cent to 45 per cent by 2030 below 2005 levels. Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga announced a cut by 46 per cent by 2030 below 2013 levels, nearly doubling the previous target. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced that Brazil would reach emissions neutrality by 2050, ten years ahead of the previous goal. The summit has enabled the countries to take a leadership role and announce the revised targets ahead of the Glasgow Climate Change Conference. However, India and China reiterated their previous targets.

Third, the presence of the key countries. The summit was attended by the world's largest emitters, the EU, China, Russia, and India, which account for most greenhouse emissions. Twenty out of forty countries in the summit account for 80 per cent of the global emissions. The summit was attended by countries representing all regions: Asia (including India, China, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Israel, UAE, and Saudi Arabia), Africa (including Kenya, Congo, Nigeria, and Gabon), Latin America (including Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina). Island states, including Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica, and the Marshall Islands that are heavily impacted by climate change also attended the summit. This highlights the inclusivity of the summit.

What does it mean?
First, the US leadership. During the pandemic, climate action has taken a back seat as the world is grappled with the socio-economic impact of COVID-19. The US has taken the responsibility of bringing back the climate change agenda to focus. By announcing the revised targets, Biden seems to be ahead of Obama in attempting to institutionalize climate action globally.  

Second, the US engaging with the rivals. Biden is using soft power to deal with rival states like China and Russia to achieve its climate targets. The presence of the world's largest emitters, including China and the EU, further makes it significant to achieve the targets that cannot be achieved unilaterally by any country. 

Third, setting up the pace for the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference. Countries like the US, Canada, and Japan have set up an example by releasing the targets way ahead of the COP26. The summit has promoted more meaningful interactions for the upcoming conference in Glasgow.

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