Climate: US Summit Short on Deliverables?

Copyright © 2021 Energy Intelligence Group

The US, EU, UK, Canada and Japan dialed up their 2030 emissions reductions targets during the week of a much-talked about US-led global climate summit. But most countries appear to be holding their fire until the November UN COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, raising questions about the overarching success of the Biden administration’s recent climate diplomacy push. The summit marks President Joe Biden’s first foray onto the world stage as president, where he looks to reassert the US into a leadership role on climate action after former US President Donald Trump exited the US from the 2015 Paris climate accord (EC Jun.30'17). The unveiling of the new US nationally determined contribution (NDC) submitted to the UN, pledging a 50%-52% reduction in emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels, was the opening note of the summit. “The steps our countries take between now and Glasgow will set us up for success,” Biden said, underscoring the need for 2030 targets to increase. The US nearly doubled the target it agreed to in 2015 in Paris, to reduce emissions by 26%-28% by 2025. But it comes after the EU this week set its sights on a 55% cut from 1990 levels by 2030, and the UK pledged to lower emissions by 78% by 2035, also from 1990 levels. The US and Europe use different baselines and calculate emissions differently. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will “blow past” its previous 30% emissions cut target to strive for 40%-45% reductions below 2005 levels over the next decade. Other notable commitments during the summit include Japan's new 46% reduction from 2013 levels pledge, South Korean President Moon Jae-in promising to end financing for overseas coal, and Brazil accelerating its 2050 emissions targets, respectively. With a spotlight on climate financing, Italy also vowed to use its share in multilateral development banks to set high targets for climate financing. All eyes were said to be on the revised US emissions targets as a crucial gauge of Biden’s seriousness about recapturing US leadership on climate (EC Apr.9'21). But it's not clear that 50%-52% topline numbers will get the Biden administration there. A senior administration official, speaking to reporters Wednesday, defended the target as appropriate for helping the US hit net zero by 2050, adding that countries develop their pledges based on a variety of factors unique to them, including differently sized economies and different baseline emissions levels. Moreover, the US, despite its efforts, did not appear to manage to persuade other countries to set fresh emissions reductions goals. "Even if the US gets to net-zero emissions tomorrow, we'll lose the fight against climate change if we can't address the more than 85% of emissions coming from the rest of the world," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday. But India and China, considered the biggest prizes in terms of getting new commitments, seem to be holding fast to their current NDC targets. Familiar Sticking Points The summit also showcased some of the rifts between developed countries and developing nations -- and between developing nations themselves -- on climate action. For countries that are still developing and experiencing economic growth, there is a greater hesitancy to commit to ambitious emissions targets given uncertainties over the costs. That divide was visible in the focus of remarks from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who sought to emphasize that China’s plans to reach peak carbon by 2030 and neutrality by 2060 are over a “much shorter time span” than developed countries. And Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted that that India’s per capita carbon footprint is “60% lower” than the global average, citing a “lifestyle still rooted in sustainable living practices.” India’s minister for petroleum, natural gas and steel, Dharmendra Pradhan, told an Atlantic Council event Wednesday that India’s growing economy relies on access to affordable gas to reduce emissions while expanding renewables and getting hydrogen projects off the ground. “We want to use gas a bridge to 450 gigawatts” of renewable energy as India has pledged by 2030, Pradhan said, adding that “greater synergy” with the US on gas may be needed. The US backing away from natural gas development, financing, or exports could impede those projects. India requires “two things -- technology and financing -- [and] the energy demand will come from India,” Pradham said. Ahead of the summit, US climate envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, met in Shanghai, capping off a whirlwhind tour of shuttle climate diplomacy on Kerry’s part that also included stopovers in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Bangladesh and India (EC Apr.16'21). Details have been sparse as to concrete targets or results coming out of the US-China meeting, although the US has sought to frame the outreach as successful: It said the two sides committed to "raising global climate ambition on mitigation, adaptation and support” and highlighted areas of possible collaboration such as energy storage, carbon capture and hydrogen. And a senior Biden administration official characterized the Kerry-Xie meeting, regardless of this week's summit outcome, as setting a “strong basis” for future work, underscoring alignment between the two countries on things like transportation, land use and methane, and pointing to both seeing the need for action in the 2020s. "China used the word 'crisis' for the first time,” Kerry later said at a Washington Post event this week. However, during this week's summit, Xi reiterated China’s existing goal to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and hit carbon neutrality by 2060 (EC Mar.12'21). Bridget DiCosmo and Emily Meredith, Washington Compass Points • SIGNIFICANCE: The US-hosted climate summit saw widespread participation from a broad swath of countries but yielded few stepped-up emissions targets ahead of Glasgow. • CONNECTION: The summit has been framed as a critical test for Biden’s ability to restore US climate leadership. Strong action from the US and China is critical to whether the world can meet the goal of limiting global warming to less than 2°C above preindustrial levels. • NEXT: The focus now shifts to countries’ plans to increase emissions reductions goals in the lead-up to COP26 in November.

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