Pledges and a Path Forward

The current administration is stark contrast to the previous when it comes to addressing climate change, reducing carbon emissions, and transforming our energy grid into one with a renewable energy versus a fossil fuel backbone. Over the last weekend the President and 40 other world leaders met virtually for this President’s first climate summit. This summit was intended to build on the climate reparations that have been undertaken by President Biden and reposition the United States as a leader on the world stage on the matter of climate. President Biden took the first step towards this goal on his first day in office when he returned the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement.

Photo Credit: US Dept. of State

The Summit that took place over April 22nd and 23rd and most notably included leaders from 17 countries that contribute 80% of global emissions. The Summit also included leaders from counties that have shown strong initiative in the fight against climate change and from countries which are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. During the Summit, the United States pledged to reduce its carbon emissions to 50% of 2005 levels by the year 2030. I want to underscore how monumental this is while also highlighting the fact that the year 2005 was utilized as the benchmark year. I personally am disappointed in this as emissions have been steadily decreasing since 2007 when the US produced 6,003 million metric tons (MMT) of carbon dioxide. Carbon emissions in 2020 were already lower than in 2005 at 4,571 MMT vs. 5,999 MMT. The difference in cutting emissions in half from today’s levels vs 2005 levels is 714 MMT of carbon. Comparatively, I understand that this is still a pledge to drastically reduce carbon emissions, but I would like to have seen the pledge be for the lower of the two figures.

Unfortunately, this pledge may not be enough according to new analysis by the Climate Action Tracker (CMT). The CMT is an independent scientific climate analysis that tracks progress towards the crucially important 2°C increase. The study indicates that the United States would need to curb emissions between 57% and 63% of 2005 levels to be able to achieve a different Biden Administration goal of net zero emissions by 2050. I hope that despite the current pledge falling just short of the track that we need to be on, we will see that advances in science will lead to exponential reduction in green house emissions.

The United States was not the only country at the Summit to double down on its commitment to fighting climate change. In a rather unforeseen split from his previous stance, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro pledged to combat illegal deforestation and achieve a carbon neutral environment by 2050. Previously, President Bolsonaro has proposed that the Biden Administration and the United States assist the halt of deforestation in the Amazon to the tune of a $1 billion dollar payment. This may sound preposterous to some, but I do think that this is a fair point to discuss. Previously I have discussed how the United States and other rich nations around the world are actively importing their deforestation through their economic relationships with developing nations. I think that is stands to reason that as we reap the benefits of the destruction we perpetuate in other countries; we should be also footing the bill to help alleviate the wounds. The fact of the matter is that these nations whose economies are now seeing the growth that United States did since before climate change was recognized as an issue cannot follow the same path to industrialization that the United States did.

Photo Credit: US Dept. of State

The Summit concluded and the Biden Administration was met with praise from leaders all around the world. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “I’m delighted to see that the United States is back, is back to work together with us in climate politics.” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson added his praise by stating that President Biden was “returning the United States to the front rank of the fight against climate change.” This was also after announcing earlier this week that Britain would reduce emissions by 78% by 2035. Please see the list below for pledges by other nations that attended the summit:

               Japan: 46% reduction from 2013 levels

               Canada: 40%-45% reduction from 2005 levels

               India: pledged to install 450 gigawatts of renewable capacity by 2030.

I believe I have made it clear that I am not entirely satisfied with the pledges that have come out of this Summit. Though I am still very happy that we are once again taking aggressive action against climate change and I do believe that these figures are entirely attainable. I hope in the future we see that we can in fact surpass these pledges and assist the rest of the world in doing the same. What do you think the United States’ role should be in the global fight to combat global warming? Leave a comment below.

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