President Biden Hosts Climate Change Summit on Earth Day, Extracting Vows From Global Leaders

United States President Joe Biden has convened leaders from the world’s most powerful countries to discuss climate change in hopes of extracting new commitments to make real change.

Photo: YouTube/Washington Post

On Thursday, April 22, President Biden took to a TV-style set to lead a virtual summit of 40 world leaders. “Meeting this moment is about more than preserving our planet,” he said. “It’s about providing a better future for all of us.” Due to limitations caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the summit was livestreamed. This not only resulted in a slew of technological mishaps like glitching and echoes, but prevented any opportunity for negotiation or debate.

Biden began by announcing his own commitment — for the U.S. to cut its fossil fuel emissions by up to 52 percent by 2030. This pivotal announcement marks America’s return to the climate crisis efforts after four years of inaction under President Donald Trump. “I’m delighted to see that the United States is back, is back to work together with us in climate politics,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “Because there can be no doubt about the world needing your contribution if we really want to fulfill our ambitious goals.”

Photo: YouTube/Washington Post

The Biden administration has set its sights on a clean-energy America. They intend to develop factories to build advanced batteries for export and a more efficient national electrical grid, as well as close down abandoned oil and gas rigs and coal mines. Biden’s emissions reduction commitment is the most zealous effort made by the U.S. so far, nearly doubling what the Obama administration had committed to in 2015.

Photo: YouTube/Washington Post

Japan followed up with an announcement of their new target of reducing fossil fuel emissions by 46 percent, and South Korea plans to stop any production of or public financing for new coal-fired power plants.

China also joined in on the efforts. Though it was unclear until the day before whether or not China would be joining the summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping has agreed to work alongside the U.S. to cut global emissions. “To protect the environment is to protect productivity, and to boost the environment is to boost productivity,” President Jinping stated. “It’s as simple as that.”

Photo: YouTube/Washington Post

Another surprising, though welcome, contributor to the summit was Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although Putin and President Biden have been at odds, he made no mention of their dispute in his remarks regarding Russia’s climate plans. “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,” he explained. Despite both Putin and Jinping’s apparent agreement that the climate crisis should be a priority, neither mentioned any specific emissions reduction targets.

Photo: YouTube/Washington Post

Among the 40 world leaders present at the summit were representatives of the smaller states and island nations. As climate change worsens, so do natural disasters such as droughts, floods, and wildfires. “We are the least contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, but the most affected by climate change,” explained Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Alfonso Browne. With rising sea levels and worsening hurricanes, he called for debt relief and increased international assistance in recovering from storms and the pandemic, saying that his people are “teetering on the edge of despair.”

Photo: YouTube/Washington Post

After each leader spoke and gave the climate pledge they were willing to offer, the summit turned to the topic of money. Many speakers insisted on hefty taxes for companies and corporations that are large contributors to pollution and climate damage. Biden pledged to double the United States’ climate funding help for less wealthy countries by 2024, and intends to have the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation make a third of all of its new investments climate-focused within the next two years.

Other speakers joined in with their intentions, including Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who claimed to put a stop to clearcutting the Amazon Rainforest. Additionally, U.S. officials put forth only hopes and intentions, rather than fully fleshed out plans and budgets. “It is going to be hard for anyone to take it seriously until they actually start taking steps,” said Human Rights Watch’s Dan Wilkinson.

Photo: YouTube/Washington Post

President Biden, who ran partly on the promise to tackle climate change during his presidency, has released some aspects of his $2 trillion plan to transform America’s transportation systems and electrical grids. Biden’s administration insists that the infrastructure proposal will provide millions of jobs, however Republicans remain skeptical as they are concerned that many Americans in the coal, gas and oil industries will be left unemployed.

You can watch the summit meeting in its entirety below.

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