The Leaders Summit on Climate
Climate at the center of new global transformation
On April 22, world leaders from 40 countries, 17 of them responsible for around 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, held a virtual summit convened by US President Joe Biden. This summit, explicitly designed to make up for the time lost by America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, will help the administration relaunch the US in the global climate arena, and align global climate policy with its domestic economic agenda. The ultimate goal is to have a carbon-neutral economy by 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, starting with a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.
The world expects 2021 to be a turning point in the fight against climate change. The Paris agreement was negotiated at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) and opened for signature on April 22, 2016, and then entered into force on Nov. 4, 2020, as the implementation tool for the period after 2020 of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. In that respect, the annually-held COP26 as per the contract had unique importance. However, it was not held in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and is scheduled for November this year.
The US, which has the greatest responsibility on a historical basis and is the second-largest greenhouse gas-emitter on an annual basis, left the Paris agreement under the Trump administration and this decision set off a worldwide reaction.
However, US President Joe Biden pledged to return to the Paris agreement during the 2020 presidential elections (which also contributed greatly to his win) and he immediately kept his promise and put the US back in the process.
Biden made another initiative to improve the US’ image on environmental issues. In order to show that the US was once again a pioneer in the world, Biden announced that he would hold a Climate Leaders Summit in April.
Meeting on Earth Day
The date for the summit, April 22, was significant because it is celebrated as Earth Day.
In 1968, 12 million litres of oil spilled on the shores of Santa Barbara. It suddenly drew attention to the increasing environmental pressures.
Thereupon, the events held on April 22, 1970, watched by more than 20 million people also played a triggering role in the US for legal regulations on “clean air and water.”
Since then, April 22 has been celebrated as the Earth Day. It was a day celebrated to draw attention to the health of our world, global warming, and all kinds of environmental problems that we face.
The Paris agreement was opened for signatures on April 22, Earth Day, five years ago. Therefore, April 22 is also the anniversary of this landmark accord.
Forty world leaders, were invited to the summit. Biden succeeded to revive the environmental sensitivity of the US with the summit, which had deteriorated under the Trump administration.
Close to the summit
There were some developments just before the summit. The first of these was the talks between the US and China. Two-day talks were held in Beijing with the climate change chief negotiators of both countries. As a result of the meeting, they reached a consensus that the two countries will coordinate further to combat and adapt to climate change, the cooperation and leadership of the two countries will be carried out in the implementation of agreements such as the Framework Convention on Climate Change and Paris agreement. The two countries will also work closely with other states to reach the targets of the Paris agreement target, as well as acting in line with the reduction schedule in the Montreal Protocol, known as the Kigali Amendment, which stipulates the reduction of hydrofluorocarbon (HCF) production and consumption over time.
Another important development took place exactly one day before the summit. Declaring the European Green Consensus after COP25, the EU negotiated to reduce its carbon emissions by 2030 and to become a carbon-neutral continent by 2050, under the green agreement.
As a result of very intense and tough negotiations, the European Commission reached a preliminary agreement to reduce greenhouse gases by 55% compared to the 1990 level.
Headlines of the gathering
Due to the pandemic that locked down the world for more than a year, the summit was held online. Countries emitting the most greenhouse gases such as China, India, Japan, the EU and Russia were among the participants.
African countries Kenya and Gabon, which face severe repercussions of climate change even though they have little contribution to gas emissions, as well as island states like the Marshall Islands and Antigua and Barbuda, who are at risk of being submerged with the rise in sea levels, also participated.
The world has paid careful attention to the summit as the environmental problems have almost peaked ever since the pandemic, and the public expects useful and serious steps.
More ambitious targets were expected to be shared in order to achieve the targets of keeping the global average temperature increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius, if possible, compared to the pre-industrial temperature in 2050, as envisaged by the Paris agreement.
Biden made the opening speech as the host. Mentioning the importance of collective action due to the insufficient fight of any state with the effects of climate change, he announced new targets for 2030, which is the target year of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The US has committed to reducing emissions by up to half (50-52%) by 2030 compared to the 2005 value. The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) given by the US in the year the Paris deal was signed, was committed to reducing the 2005 emission values by 26-28% by 2025. Therefore, this new value is interpreted as exactly doubling the previous reduction value.
Furthermore, the US proposed $2-trillion infrastructure support package for areas such as green economy, renewable energy investments, public transportation, and electric vehicles. Besides, it was announced that the US doubled its support for developing countries’ adaptation phase.
This attitude of the US raised expectations for other major emitters to announce such targets. However, it was not the case.
Despite the declarations of Biden, China and India, two of the major emitters, stated that they will continue to emit. Brazil, on the other hand, asked the developed states to contribute $1 billion annually for the protection of the Amazons.
A remarkable move was also expected from Japan since the previously offered reduction value of 26% of the second-largest economy in the world but its inaction was disappointing.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga partially met the expectations and shared a 46% decrease from 2013 values by 2030 and a net-zero target by 2050.
A similar move came from Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the target upon foreseeing a 30% reduction in emissions compared to 2005 in the National Contribution Statement submitted in 2015. Similar to the US, it declared a 40-45% reduction target compared to 2005. He also called for urgent action on the grounds that no vaccine could end the pollution of the planet.
On the other hand, China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, said that as a developing country, it would continue its emissions until 2030, reach a peak value in 2030 and be carbon neutral in 2060.
However, China, which is responsible for almost half of coal-induced emissions, underlined that it will reduce its use of coal by 2025.
Similarly, the fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter, Russia, avoided specifying a net value. Russia stated that they have fulfilled their responsibilities in combating climate change and that they will make significant reductions in the next three decades.
Russia also called for a global reduction in methane emissions, which is 84 times more greenhouse than carbon dioxide, while it has already halved its emissions compared to 1990 values.
India, one of the other major emitters, did not announce a new commitment while stating that it was carrying out the necessary works as it struggles to come to terms with the pandemic.
In this respect, India announced that 450 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy installed power will be built by 2030. Besides, South Korean President Moon Jae-in stated that Korea will stop public support for coal power plants.
Participants noted the need to work rapidly over the course of this decade to accelerate decarbonization efforts and are taking a range of actions to that end. Announcements during this Session included, among others:
Japan will cut emissions 46-50% below 2013 levels by 2030, with strong efforts toward achieving a 50% reduction, a significant acceleration from its existing 26% reduction goal.
Canada will strengthen its NDC to a 40-45% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030, a significant increase over its previous target to reduce emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.
India reiterated its target of 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030 and announced the launch of the “US-India 2030 Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership” to mobilize finance and speed clean energy innovation and deployment in this decade.
Argentina will strengthen its NDC, deploy more renewables, reduce methane emissions, and end illegal deforestation.
The United Kingdom will embed in law a 78% GHG reduction below 1990 levels by 2035.
The European Union is putting into law a target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and a net zero target by 2050.
The Republic of Korea, which will host the 2021 P4G Seoul Summit in May, will terminate public overseas coal finance and strengthen its NDC this year to be consistent with its 2050 net zero goal.
China indicated that it will join the Kigali Amendment, strengthen the control of non-CO2 greenhouse gases, strictly control coal-fired power generation projects, and phase down coal consumption.
Brazil committed to achieve net zero by 2050, end illegal deforestation by 2030, and double funding for deforestation enforcement.
South Africa announced that it intends to strengthen its NDC and shift its intended emissions peak year ten years earlier to 2025.
Russia noted the importance of carbon capture and storage from all sources, as well as atmospheric carbon removals. It also highlighted the importance of methane and called for international collaboration to address this powerful greenhouse gas.
President Biden had promised to convene a global summit of world leaders to agree on a number of new initiatives they could take to arrest global warming which was occurring at a rate faster than assumed during the Paris 2015 deliberations. The US State Department issued invitations to 40 heads of state to attend the “virtual summit”. Pakistan was a surprising omission from the list of the invitees although it was likely to be seriously affected by global warming. Ignoring Pakistan appeared to be part of the Biden government’s approach to world affairs. John Kerry, former secretary of state in the Obama administration and now given the responsibility for climate policies and their implementation in the Biden White House, passed over Pakistan while visiting South Asia. He went to Bangladesh and India.
After the initial snub, Pakistan was invited to the Summit and the country was represented by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Climate Change, Malik Amin Aslam. In his address, the SAPM reiterated that Pakistan is amongst the worst- affected countries in terms of climate impact, and identified measures being championed by his government to address climate change. Stressing that the world needs to get off the warpath with nature, which would only exacerbate disasters, he called upon the global community to ‘do more’ on the global climate action to protect the world community from unfolding deleterious impacts of climate change.
The writer is a Lahore-based freelance columnist, having special interest ini global affairs.