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US climate summit: Biden's first climate coup

2021-04-22T18:31:41.580Z

The USA is back as a climate champion: In two summit days with world political celebrities, US President Biden achieved more than the UN in one year. But how stable are the commitments?



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US President Biden together with Foreign Minister Blinken: The major CO2 emitters are suddenly moving

Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP

It was a superlative debut: in the past two days, US President Joe Biden has proven who wears the pants in international climate diplomacy: not the UN, not the EU or Germany, but the USA.

After a four-year forced break by the climate denier and ex-president Donald Trump, the democratic Biden immediately caused a bang: At the US climate summit, which ends on Friday, several countries announced that they would increase their climate targets.

In a speech marathon of over five hours, the invited heads of state and government affirmed their will to fight the climate crisis.

There were not only Sunday speeches, but real announcements that many UN diplomats have been waiting for months:

  • The US wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030 compared to 2005

  • Canada is increasing its 2030 targets from 30 to 40 to 45 percent compared to 2005

  • China has announced that it will reduce its coal consumption from 2025 onwards

  • Japan announced that it would reduce its emissions by 46 percent by 2030/2031 compared to 2013, compared to only 26 percent so far

  • Brazil has agreed to end illegal logging of the Amazon by 2030 and cut its emissions by 50 percent over the next decade

Even in the run-up to the summit, Great Britain had rushed ahead with the sensational announcement of 78 percent savings by 2035.

The European Union had also passed its climate law after months of negotiations.

Biden's summit set a veritable turbo dynamic in motion: everyone suddenly wanted to be there again after climate diplomacy had lost momentum since the last "real" UN climate conference in December 2019 due to the corona pandemic.

Now the big emitters are moving: the USA, Canada, China, Japan, Great Britain and the EU together account for over half of the world's emissions.

Enlarge image

Angela Merkel speaks from Berlin at the virtual summit of US President Joe Biden.

Photo: KAY NIETFELD / AFP

"The US's new climate target is more ambitious than we had hoped," comments Niklas Höhne, climate expert from the NewClimate Institute. He was impressed by the plans of the new US president: "The EU and Germany now have to be careful that the USA and Great Britain do not overtake them when it comes to climate policy," said Höhne. Assuming only the proposed steps for the next ten years, the US and the UK are now even ahead of the EU. "The EU has a bigger lead because it has already reduced emissions over the past 30 years," said Höhne. "But if you only calculate the emissions reductions from 2020 to 2030, then the USA is more ambitious."

The Climate Action Tracker had already published an analysis in March, according to which the USA would actually have to save up to 63 percent of its emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 if it wants to be "on the track" with the 1.5 degree target in the world climate agreement.

However, no country has been able to do this so far: To achieve this, all countries would have to cut their emissions in half by 2030.

In December after Biden's election, there was movement again for the first time.

At that time, countries like China announced that they wanted to become climate neutral and some countries held out the prospect of new climate targets.

Now this development seems to be solidifying.

Climate protection as a peacemaker?

This is also thanks to Biden's chief climate officer John Kerry.

The experienced diplomat already served as Foreign Minister under Barack Obama and negotiated the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015.

He had already had important talks weeks beforehand, including with the Chinese government during his visit to Shanghai.

That was certainly also the reason why China agreed only a few hours before the summit kick-off - although there are currently political tensions between the two countries over human rights in Hong Kong or territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also took part - this, too, is not a matter of course at the moment.

Because diplomatically, things are boiling between the two countries - also in the dispute over a fossil resource: gas.

One could almost think that the idea of ​​climate protection as a peacemaker is now coming true: whether military conflicts or economic disagreements - the negotiations about the global climate work like a big bracket that holds even parties that are drifting apart together.

In his speech, Putin called climate protection a "connecting element".

However, there were no new climate targets from the Russian side.

One is ready to offer "a whole series" of joint climate projects, according to Putin.

China's slow swan song to coal

Against this background, the fact that China's head of state Xi Jinping spoke at the summit was at least a diplomatic high point. But there were no new commitments from China either: there is still no milestone to reduce Chinese emissions. At the end of last year, the country only declared that it wanted to become climate neutral by 2060. The country also expects its emissions to increase in the next few years.

"Although President Xi has not announced any new climate targets, he has sent an important signal on the subject of coal," says Joanna Lewis, an expert on Sino-US relations at Georgetown University.

The declaration of intent to at least stop coal growth after 2025 is worth a lot, since coal consumption in China is currently increasing and new coal-fired power plants are going online.

"This is a crucial concession so that China can achieve the climate targets it has promised," said Lewis.

The US and China are the world's largest greenhouse gas emitters, so your efforts are particularly important.

The two countries had already issued a joint declaration last weekend.

In it, China declares that it is ready to increase its climate protection ambitions.

Too early to cheer

However, it remains to be seen whether the new promises will really be kept.

Because the UN climate agreement is based on voluntariness.

So far, over 130 countries around the world have announced that they will improve their climate targets.

If these long-term goals are really met, the world could barely miss the worst climate scenarios.

Climate experts from the think tanks Climate Analytics and New Climate Institute calculated in December that the global climate would then "only" warm to 2.1 degrees on average.

This would enable the countries to at least approximately meet the Paris climate target of staying below two degrees warming.

But that depends on the respective elected governments: If the mood turns again in the next few years or right-wing populists come to governments, then at least everything could be slowed down.

Large players such as the EU, Germany or France are therefore trying to anchor climate protection in law so that the climate-friendly conversion becomes irreversible.

The European Union passed a climate law this week, which, like in Germany, is flanked by a scientific council and is intended to provide a concrete reduction path by 2050.

No climate protection without money

In order to adhere to the new climate plans, green corona stimulus packages and an immediate stop to all fossil subsidies would have to be decided, climate experts have been appealing for months. "When it comes to climate neutrality, we cannot speak of CO2 storage technologies or negative emissions and at the same time continue building coal and gas-fired power plants with taxpayers' money," criticized the director of the World Resources Institute, Yamide Dagnet, a few hours before the Biden summit. Enormous amounts of money on the financial market would also have to be diverted into renewable energies.

Because the Biden summit also makes it clear: The global climate change no longer depends on commitments, but above all on money.

Because many emerging countries, which have an increasing share of global emissions, need access to loans, technology transfers or financial aid.

That is why representatives of the financial sector and entrepreneurs are to speak at the Biden summit on the second day of the summit.

On the way to the climate summit in Glasgow in November, the countries also have to take important steps at the next G7 and G20 meetings and at the Petersberg Dialogue in Berlin in May.

Because the beautiful goals are of little use if they are not backed up with concrete actions.

Source: spiegel

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