An “evening out for the United States on climate change”.
That’s how Nathan Hultman, director of the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland, describes the virtual summit that President Joe Biden is hosting with dozens of world leaders from April 22-23.
After four years of contempt for the issue under former President Donald Trump, the summit will be “an opportunity for the United States to come back on the scene to show that it takes climate change seriously,” said David Waskow , director of the International Climate Initiative at the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based environmental research and advocacy group.
The White House said he would announce an “ambitious” target for 2030 for greenhouse gas emissions before the summit.
Defenders are calling for a 50% reduction from 2005 levels, a “very ambitious but still achievable goal,” Hultman said.
And it would show other big polluters that the biggest cumulative contributor to global warming is ready to act.
“China is certainly looking to see what the United States is going to do,” Waskow said. “We know that some of these other countries – Japan, South Korea, Canada, India – are watching to see how the United States is going to move.”
Hit or miss
The stakes are rising. Many experts say the 2020s are a watershed decade.
Average across the globe, temperatures have risen by more than 1.1 degrees Celsius since 1880. Scientists associate this increase with more severe heat waves, droughts, forest fires, storms and other impacts. And they note that the rate of temperature rise has accelerated since the 1980s.
World leaders have agreed to limit global warming to “well below” 2 ° C in the 2015 United Nations climate change agreement, and to target 1.5 ° C.
But the world is currently on track for 3C warming, which experts say it would be catastrophic.
“The global trajectory is completely out of step with what it should be,” said Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“We have to bend this curve hard to keep 1.5 within reach,” she added. “At this point, we are really in danger of losing him.”
Global emissions are expected to fall by around 45% by 2030, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. By 2050, they must reach “net zero”, where emissions are canceled by removing carbon dioxide that warms the planet from the atmosphere.
“If you don’t start bending that curve now, the path that we would need to take 2030 would be incredibly difficult to achieve,” Waskow said.
The Biden administration sees tackling climate change as an opportunity to create jobs – installing wind and solar power, building electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and improving the efficiency of homes and buildings, for example.
It’s the cornerstone of its $ 2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.
“The US Jobs Plan will lead to transformational progress to tackle climate change with US jobs and US ingenuity,” he said, announcing the plan last month in Pittsburgh.
But Congress is expected to pass this plan, and Republicans are strongly opposed, especially to the tax increases Biden has offered to pay for it.
South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune called it “a massive expansion of government funded at the expense of American taxpayers, with taxes that will hurt the economy and cost us jobs.”
“Until we can sort out these political issues, it will be difficult for us to claim this leadership role internationally on the first numbers,” said Joseph Majkut, director of climate policy at the Niskanen Center, an institute Washington-based policy research institute. .
The United States faces climate skepticism after the Trump administration withdrew from the Paris climate agreement and worked to overturn regulations reducing emissions.
“Rebuilding confidence will, I think, be a vital part of the conversation,” said Majkut.
But the United States is not the only country with a credibility problem.
China, the world’s largest polluter, has made a “world leader” pledge to reach net zero by 2060, Hultman of the University of Maryland noted.
It “changes (d) the idea of net zero to something that was right for the greenest of greens,” he said, sending a signal to other developing countries that “net zero is actually our global future “.
At the same time, however, China continues to build and finance coal-fired power plants, the biggest source of greenhouse gases. China added enough coal-fired capacity last year to reverse a near-record number of plant closures, according to the Global Energy Monitor.
Study: China’s new coal-fired power plant capacity in 2020 is more than 3 times that of the rest of the world
China commissioned 38.4 gigawatts (GW) of new coal-fired power capacity in 2020
“Right now they’re rushing forward,” Hultman said. “They basically need to step back … and even reverse the course a bit over the next few years to bolster the credibility of their long-term climate promises.”
All eyes will also be on India, a rising source, to announce its plans ahead of a major United Nations climate conference in Glasgow in November.