President Joe Biden convened leaders of the world’s most powerful countries on Thursday to discuss global efforts against manmade climate change. Biden received verbal commitments from Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin to cooperate on cutting emissions despite their own sharp rivalries with the United States.
“Meeting this moment is about more than preserving our planet,” Biden declared, speaking from a TV-style set for a virtual summit of 40 world leaders. “It’s about providing a better future for all of us,” he said, calling it “a moment of peril but a moment of opportunity.”
“The signs are unmistakable. the science is undeniable. the cost of inaction keeps mounting,” he added.
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Biden’s own new ambitious commitment, timed to the summit, is to cut U.S. fossil fuel emissions up to 52% by 2030.
It marks a return by the U.S. to global climate efforts after four years of withdrawal under President Donald Trump. Biden’s administration is sketching out a vision of a remade, clean-energy United States where factories churn out cutting-edge batteries for export, line workers re-lay an efficient national electrical grid, and shut down oil and gas rigs and coal mines.
Japan announced its own new 46% emissions reduction target Thursday, and South Korea said it would stop public financing of new coal-fired power plants.
The coronavirus pandemic compelled the summit to play out as a telethon-style livestream. The opening was rife with small technological glitches, including echoes, random beeps, and off-screen voices.
But the U.S. summit also marshaled an impressive display of the world’s most powerful leaders speaking on the single cause of climate change.
China’s Xi, whose country is the world’s biggest emissions culprit, spoke first among the other global figures. He made no reference to nonclimate disputes that had made it uncertain until Wednesday that he would even take part in the U.S. summit, and said China would work with America in cutting emissions.
“To protect the environment is to protect productivity, and to boost the environment is to boost productivity. It’s as simple as that,” Xi said.[Sponsored] “90-Year-Old Mitochondria Becoming 30-Years Old”
Putin, whose government has been publicly irate over Biden’s characterization of him as a “killer” for Russia’s aggressive moves against its opponents, made no mention of the feud in his remarks, a live presentation that also saw moments of dead air among production problems.
“Russia is genuinely interested in galvanizing international cooperation so as to look further for effective solutions to climate change as well as to all other vital challenges,” Putin said. Russia by some measures is the world’s fourth-biggest emitter of climate-damaging fossil fuel fumes.
However, besides a verbal commitment, Russia and China announced no specific new emissions cuts themselves.
The pandemic made gathering world leaders for the climate summit too risky. That didn’t keep the White House from sparing any effort on production quality. The president’s staff built a small set in the East Room that looked like it was ripped from a daytime talk show.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the summit from separate lecterns before joining Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and White House climate envoy John Kerry at a horseshoe-shaped table set up around a giant potted plant to watch fellow leaders’ livestreamed speeches.
The format meant a cavalcade of short speeches by world leaders, some scripted, some apparently more impromptu. “This is not bunny-hugging,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of the climate efforts. “This is about growth and jobs.”
The Biden administration’s pledge would require by far the most ambitious U.S. climate effort ever, nearly doubling the reductions that the Obama administration had committed to in the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was one of many allies welcoming the U.S. back into the accord.
After he was elected, Trump pulled out of the deal and instead boosted oil and gas production. He questioned the political motives of the science behind climate warnings.
Longtime climate policy experts, no strangers to big pledges without exact commitments, watched some speeches with skepticism. After Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro promised an end to clearcutting in the Amazon, Dan Wilkinson of Human Rights Watch’s environmental programs noted, “It is going to be hard for anyone to take it seriously until they actually start taking steps.”
The Biden administration insists the transformation to a green economy will mean millions of well-paying jobs.
Republicans say the effort will throw oil, gas, and coal workers off the job. They call his infrastructure proposal too costly.
The Associated Press contributed to this article