Biden pledges to hold climate summit in the US shortly after taking office

Joe Biden Joe Biden, the Democratic president-elect of the United States Credit: Michael Stoke/Flickr

The United State will hold a climate summit within the first 100 days of the Biden administration that will gather the world’s major economies as the country seeks to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, the presidential transition team said in a statement on the fifth anniversary of the accord.

Heads of state and government from over 70 countries took part in a virtual conference on December 12 – hosted by Britain, France, Italy, Chile and the United Nations – to mark that event, called the Climate Ambition Summit, and announced greater efforts in cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming.

The outgoing administration of President Donald Trump, who pulled Washington out of the Paris accord, wasn’t represented at the online gathering. But in a written statement sent shortly before it began, Biden made clear that his administration was waiting on the sidelines to join again and noted that Washington was key to negotiating the 2015 agreement, which has since been ratified by almost all countries around the world.

“The United States will rejoin the Paris Agreement on day one of my presidency,” he said. “I’ll immediately start working with my counterparts around the world to do all that we possibly can, including by convening the leaders of major economies for a climate summit within my first 100 days in office.”

Biden also reiterated his campaign pledge that his administration will set a target of cutting US emissions to net zero by “no later than 2050,” and added that: “We’ll do all of this knowing that we have before us an enormous economic opportunity to create jobs and prosperity at home and export clean American-made products around the world.”

The Paris agreement aims to cap global warming at well under 2 C, ideally no more than 1.5 C, by the end of the century. Meeting the temperature target will require a phasing-out of fossil fuels and better protection for the world’s carbon-soaking forests, wetlands and oceans.

António Guterres, the UN secretary general, told the summit that: “It is a very important signal. We look forward to a very active US leadership in climate action from now on as US leadership is absolutely essential. The US is the largest economy in the world, it’s absolutely essential for our goals to be reached.”

While members of the Trump administration shunned the Climate Ambition Summit, the US was still represented by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and US business leaders, such as Apple chief executive Tim Cook.

Also absent from the event were major economies such as Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Most have offered no significant improvements on their existing emissions targets in recent months.

Environmental campaigners singled out Brazil’s recent announcement that it will stick to its target of cutting emissions by 43 percent over the next decade compared with 2005 levels and aim for net zero by 2060 — later than most other countries.

By contrast, an agreement by European Union members to beef up the continent’s 2030 targets from 40 percent to at least 55 percent compared with 1990 levels was broadly welcomed – though Bellona said that goal’s inclusion of carbon sinks was misleading.

China gave some details to its plan to cause emissions to peak before the end of this decade but stopped short of agreeing to curb its planned expansion of coal-fired power.

The UK pledged to stop funding fossil fuel development overseas. The Maldives, an Indian Ocean nation of low-lying islands that are vulnerable to rising seas, announced that it will aim to achieve net zero by 2030, one of the most ambitious goals worldwide. Bhutan and Suriname claim to have already achieved that goal.

The 189 countries that are party to the Paris agreement are required to submit their updated targets to the United Nations by the end of the year. This would normally have occurred at the annual U.N. climate summit, but the event was postponed for a year because of the pandemic.

The gathering is now scheduled to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November 2021, and will be the first major climate event that high level officials from the US will have attended since 2016.