US President Joe Biden delivers opening remarks Thursday to the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate from the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP)
As a two-day climate summit organized by the US Joe Biden administration kicked off by video conference on Thursday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the leaders of 39 other countries participating, the first step in a full-scale global response to climate change was taken with the US, the European Union members, the UK, Japan and other major countries announcing greenhouse gas reduction targets far higher than their previous ones.
In the first session of the climate summit that day, Biden declared that the US plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 50-52% of their 2005 levels by 2030.
That was roughly double the target stated in 2015 by the Barack Obama administration, which announced plans to reduce emissions to 26-28% of their 2005 levels by 2025.
Coming just ahead of Biden’s 100th day in office on Thursday, the declaration that the US plans to reestablish its global leadership on the climate change response issue could be seen as representing an interim target for his election pledge of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
For Earth Day on Thursday, Biden presided over his first climate summit since taking office. The summit is an event where the leaders of 40 major countries meet via video conference to state their carbon emission reduction targets and discuss ideas for international cooperation.
The participants included President Xi Jinping of China, the US’ biggest competitor, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, which has been waging a war of nerves with the US. A particular focus of attention for the international community was the first face-to-face encounter between the US and Chinese heads of state since Biden took office.
But while the event appeared on the surface to signal plans for cooperation on climate change even as the countries compete in other areas such as trade, technology and military activity, some analysts also said it pointed to the arrival of a new competition for climate response leadership between the G2 countries, which are the world’s biggest sources of carbon emissions.
To reach the greenhouse gas reduction targets, the Biden administration plans to cut emissions through various means in electricity, transportation, construction, industry and land use.
With the efforts applying not just in the US but throughout the world, the summit included separate sections for each area, with various experts taking part from businesses and other private sector areas alongside the different governments.
On Wednesday, the EU reached a provisional deal on a new climate law with a target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. It also agreed to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% of their 1990 levels by 2030 as an intermediate step toward achieving zero net carbon emissions by 2050.
While it represents a step forward from the previous target of a 40% reduction from 1990 levels, the deal met with disappointment from the European Parliament and climate activists, who had been calling for a figure of 60% of 1990 levels.
The UK government also announced on Tuesday that it planned to “set the world’s most ambitious climate change target into law to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels.”
The UK has said it plans to legislate a new Carbon Budget by late June, with the larger reduction targets included. Last year, it submitted nationally determined contribution targets to the UN that included a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 68% compared with 1990 levels by 2030.
In a meeting of Japan’s Global Warming Prevention Headquarters ahead of the climate summit that afternoon, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 46% compared with 2013 levels by 2030. The amount far exceeds the initially announced target of 26%.
During the first climate summit session that day, Moon Jae-in spoke about South Korea’s intensified climate response actions to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
But his remarks did not mention specific greenhouse gas reduction targets. Instead, they simply reaffirmed his previously stated aim of raising the targets “within the year.”
Critics suggested that his “pro forma” declaration stood in sharp contrast with the historic reduction targets shared by other major economies.
By Hwang Joon-bum, Washington correspondent
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