U.S. President Joe Biden convened six heads of state and three leaders of multilateral organizations on Friday to make his plea: that stronger climate action is not just urgent — it is good for the global economy.
The leaders met six weeks ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, an event that aims to chart future global climate efforts.
“I wanted to show that we're at an inflection point and that there's a real consensus, a real consensus, that while the climate crisis poses an existential threat, there is a silver lining,” Biden told the leaders of Argentina, Bangladesh, Indonesia, South Korea, Mexico and the United Kingdom, who all joined virtually.
“The climate crisis also presents real and incredible economic opportunities to create jobs and lift up the standard of living for people around the world.”
One of Biden’s first acts in office was to return the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change, after his predecessor withdrew saying it was a “bad deal” for the country.
The legally binding international treaty aims to limit the global temperature increase by 1.5 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels. For developed nations like the U.S. and China — the two largest emitters — that would require a substantial reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions.
For the U.S., that would require reducing emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030, a move that could require a marked shift from traditional energy sources like coal towards greener sources like solar and wind power.
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres echoed Biden’s sense of urgency on Friday.
“The world is on a catastrophic pathway to 2.7 degrees of heating,” he said in a statement, citing a report released Friday by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. “This is breaking the promise made six years ago to pursue the 1.5-degree Celsius goal of the Paris Agreement. Failure to meet this goal will be measured in the massive loss of lives and livelihoods."
The U.N. chief directly pinned responsibility on the developed world, noting that 80% of global emissions are caused by the world’s 20 wealthiest nations. He called on all nations to set more ambitious emissions targets, and for developed countries to deliver on their $100 billion commitment to help developing nations deal with climate change.
But notable by their absence at Friday’s meeting was any representative from the world’s largest emitter: China.
Nikos Tsafos, an analyst working on energy and geopolitics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says there is a lot of subtext to the U.S.-China relationship when it comes to climate change discussions.
“The bilateral relationship is more complex and adversarial than it was during the negotiation of the Paris Agreement in 2015, making it hard to disentangle climate from the numerous disputes between the two countries,” he wrote in an opinion piece. “China has also tried to brand itself as a leader on climate and is less willing to do anything that might be seen as kowtowing to U.S. pressure.”
But, he noted, China’s perspective has also changed. They now, too, see opportunity to cash in. For years, he said, Chinese firms have been major players in the wind and solar power industries, and the nation is a bigger market for electric vehicles than the U.S.
“There is no longer a need to convince China to lean into the energy transition,” he said.
The 197 parties to the Paris Agreement — which include individual countries and supranational groupings — will meet in November, in Glasgow, Scotland.