US pledges to halve its emissions by 2030 in renewed climate fight

The goal was unveiled at the start of a two-day climate summit hosted by US President Joe Biden.
The goal was unveiled at the start of a two-day climate summit hosted by US President Joe Biden.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - World leaders pledged tougher new carbon emission reduction targets at a virtual climate summit on Thursday (April 22), stepping up the fight to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, instead of the three degrees the planet is currently headed towards.

America vowed to halve the planet-warming greenhouse gases it emits by 2030, a target largely matched by Japan. Meanwhile, China pledged to reduce coal consumption, Brazil to end illegal deforestation by 2030, and South Korea to stop state-backed financing of overseas coal-fired plants.

“The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable. The cost of inaction keeps mounting. The United States isn’t waiting,” said Mr Biden at the start of the two-day summit, as he called on other big polluters to make deeper reductions in their own carbon emissions.

Stressing that time is running out, he said: “This is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis.”

With the summit, the Biden administration is seeking to galvanise the rest of the world into raising their climate ambition and restore American leadership on the issue, restoring Washington’s credibility in the global fight against climate change after years of neglect under the Trump presidency.

The summit was attended by 40 leaders, including Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, of countries ranging from the world’s biggest polluters to countries hit hard by climate change, as well as by corporate executives and mayors.

America’s updated target of cutting carbon emissions by 50 per cent to 52 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030 is double the pledge made by the Obama administration in 2014, but the announcement was not accompanied by specific details on how it will be achieved.

Chinese president Xi Jinping said that China - the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal - will strictly control coal-fired power generation projects and strictly limit the increase in coal consumption from this year until 2025, before phasing it down from 2025 to 2030.

China will strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve neutrality before 2060, said Mr Xi, calling it “a much shorter timespan” than many developed countries took which will require “extraordinarily hard effort from China”.

The tensions typically on display between the US and other countries like China, Russia and Brazil were largely put aside on Thursday, as leaders committed to uniting in their quests to achieve carbon neutrality by the mid-century.

“Global decarbonisation...cannot be achieved by the efforts of one country alone. It is a challenge that requires a whole international community to be united,” said Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who announced earlier that Japan aims to cut its emissions by 46 per cent by 2030, based on 2013 levels.

Canada, meanwhile, announced it was raising its target to reduce emissions by 40 to 45 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, up from its previous pledge of 30 per cent.

This global fight for carbon neutrality “should certainly unite the efforts of the international community as a whole”, said Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“There are many issues on which we don’t all see eye to eye. This isn’t one of them,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The Biden administration also strove to make the case, as much to its domestic audience as its international interlocutors, that climate action can go hand in hand with creating jobs and generating other economic benefits.

And in a demonstration of renewed American leadership, Mr Blinken said that the US will mobilise resources, institutional knowledge, and technical expertise from the government, the private sector, civil society, and research universities to help other countries meet their climate targets.

“We are all so delighted to have the United States back,” said South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, echoing Italian prime minister Mario Draghi, who called Mr Biden’s leadership “a complete change”.

Some divisions emerged between developed and developing nations, however, with South Africa, Bangladesh and others calling for more aid on climate change.

 The Climate Action Network, which comprises more than 1,500 civil society organisations around the world, said that the summit fell short in announcing new financial pledges needed by developing countries to meet their climate and development goals.

The climate targets announced on Thursday also fall short of what is needed to avert catastrophe and are “simply not aligned with the science or based on their fair share”, the network said in a statement.