President Joe Biden has confirmed the new climate target for the United States will be to slash emissions by at least half by 2030, and promised again that the world’s biggest economy will achieve a zero emissions grid by 2035.
In one of the landmark moments of the decades-long climate debate, Biden’s commitment to cut emissions from 2005 levels by 50-52 per cent by 2030 came as he hosted more than 40 world leaders in an online two-day summit designed to re-boot efforts to deliver on the Paris climate treaty.
“America must act— and not just the federal government, but cities and states, small and big business, working communities,” Biden said. “Together, we can seize the opportunity to drive prosperity, create jobs, and build the clean energy economy of tomorrow.
“The United States is not waiting, the costs of delay are too great, and our nation is resolved to act now. Climate change poses an existential threat, but responding to this threat offers an opportunity to support good-paying, union jobs, strengthen America’s working communities, protect public health, and advance environmental justice.”
The significance of the US pledge should not be underestimated. It is the first time the US finds itself in a leadership position, it reverses the disastrous trajectory set out by former president Donald Trump, and is the first pledge by one of the big emitters that delivers on its share of the task of capping average global warming to 2°C.
To meet its share of the 1.5°C target, the US will have to cut its emissions from 2005 levels by 57-63 per cent by 2030, according to CarbonTracker. But US climate envoy John Kerry said he expected the US to beat its new target, which will cut emissions by up to 2.4 gigatonnes a year by 2030.
The US pledge was designed to encourage others to follow suit. “We have to take action, all of us,” Biden said. “Countries that take decisive action now will be the ones that benefit from it. Time is short. We really have no choice, we have to get this done.”
It was quickly followed by news that Japan and Canada – often peers of Australia in the global “naughty corner” for dragging their heals on emissions – would follow the US example by increasing their targets.
Japan, one of the biggest customers of Australia’s fossil fuel exports, said it would increase its 2030 emissions reduction target to a 46 per cent per cent cut from 2013 levels – from its previous target of 26 per cent.
Prime minister Yoshihide Suga told the summit this was equivalent to a 70 per cent increase in its climate targets. He said the focus would be on decarbonising the power supply and increasing its use of renewable energy. Read: Japan’s pivot to renewables will kick Australian exports right in the thermals
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced a significant shift in ambition, raising the country’s 2030 target from 30% of 2005 levels to 40 – 45% by 2030. The country relies heavily on oil and gas exports, and much of the country’s emissions come from this sector.
The UK has already flagged a 78 per cent cut in emissions from 1990 levels by 2035, and prime minister Boris Johnson described Biden’s move was “game-changing”. “We want to see similar commitments around the world … to keep change to 1.5°C. And I think we can do it,” Johnson told the summit.
China, another fossil fuel customer of Australia, said it would cap coal use by 2025, and Korea said it would cease financing of international coal projects.
The new U.S. emissions target raises the bar for other countries as we head toward the UN climate summit in Glasgow,” said Manish Bapna, the interim head of the World Resources Institute. “The message to other major emitters is loud and clear: It’s your move next.”
But Australia – despite calls by Biden for the world’s richest economies to “step up” – refused to budge from its intransigent position on holding on to what are universally seen as a weak 2030 target, (26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030), particularly for such a rich nation.
Morrison simply repeated the rhetoric – and the misinformation – that he repeatedly delivers on the domestic stage. Nearly all the government’s initiatives are focused on backing fossil fuel technologies, even in hydrogen. It hasn’t even committed to zero net emissions by 2050, the bare minimum required if climate change is to be taken seriously and the economic opportunities of the green energy transition are seized.
“Future generations will thank us not for what we have promised but what we will deliver – and on that score Australia can always be relied upon,” Morrison said. But, as Ketan Joshi points out, Australia has failed to deliver much at all, and its fossil fuel emissions have barely changed over the last two decades.
You can read more here: Morrison finds shameless new way to fake climate action as world steps up
Biden’s initiatives are economy wide, and focus not just on achieving a zero emissions grid by 2035, but also slashing emissions from transport, buildings, manufacturing and agriculture.
The focus of the US initiative is on jobs and future economic growth. “The health of our communities, well-being of our workers, and competitiveness of our economy requires this quick and bold action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.
Among its priorities is hydrogen, but unlike the Australian government there was no mention of hydrogen from fossil fuels. The focus is on “green hydrogen” and zero emissions.
The WRI later published a summary of the most notable announcements from Day 1 of the Leaders Summit.
The United States announced a new national climate target (NDC): a 50-52% emissions reduction by 2030, below 2005 levels.
Japan announced it will cut emissions by 46% by 2030 from 2013 levels and will aim for an ambitious 50% cut. There was no commitment to stop financing new international coal projects.
Canada announced it will enhance its national climate target (NDC) to 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030.
The United Kingdom, COP26 host, reiterated its new commitment to cut emissions 78% by 2035.
South Korea announced it will halt all financing for new overseas coal plants.
China pledged to strictly control its increase in coal consumption in the next five years and to “phase down” coal use during the 15th FYP period (2026-2030).
Brazil announced its intention to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 (previously 2060), reiterating a commitment to eliminate illegal deforestation by 2030.
South Africa said that its emissions would decline starting by 2025, a decade earlier than its previous commitment.
Climate vulnerable countries attending the Summit pushed developed countries for increased finance for adaptation in particular, and for debt relief. The vulnerable countries at the summit include: Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Jamaica, Kenya and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
The LEAF Coalition launched. This is a group of governments and companies that will provide financial support to tropical and subtropical countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero launched, providing a forum for actors across the industry to work together to accelerate progress in the financial sector towards a resilient, zero-carbon future. This alliance includes the Net Zero Asset Owners Alliance and Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative, as well as the new Net Zero Banking Alliance, bringing together more than 160 financial firms responsible for assets over $70 trillion.