The Leaders Summit on Climate opened Thursday with opening remarks from Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who are seeking to reassert the United States as a world leader in efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
In his opening remarks, Biden announced the new target for the United States to achieve a reduction of between 50% and 52% in net greenhouse gas pollution by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.
The president said the United States would meet net zero emissions economy-wide by 2050.
“The cost of inaction keeps mounting. The United States isn’t waiting. We are resolving to take action,” Biden said.
He added that battling climate change is an important way to create jobs.
“By putting these people to work, the United States aims to cut greenhouse gases in half by the end of this decade,” he said. “Time is short, but I believe we will do this. We really have no choice. We have to get this done.”
Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement soon after taking office.The U.S. plan includes a goal to reach 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035, reduce pollution from the transportation sector, cut emissions from forests and agriculture, enhance carbon sinks and reduce non-carbon greenhouse gases like methane, hydrofluorocarbons and other pollutants.
Other world leaders spoke at the summit via video conference.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres praised Biden for his push to halve emissions.
“You have started the summit by talking the talk,” he said.
Guterres called for an end to the “war on nature” by phasing out coal and providing better support for developing countries.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said Beijing intends to move to sustainable energy sources and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
“We must be committed to harmony between man and nature,” Xi said. “China looks forward to working with the international community, including the United States.”
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Japan aims to reduce emissions by 46% in 2030 compared to 2013 levels, up from a previous goal to cut pollution by 26%.
“Japan is ready to demonstrate its leadership,” Suga said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “It is no secret that the conditions that facilitated global warming go way back.”
“It’s not enough to tackle the issue of new emissions, it is also important to take up the task of absorbing the CO2 [carbon dioxide] that is already in the atmosphere,” he said.
Putin said Russia is maintaining strong ecosystems to reach this goal.
Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country’s new climate target for 2030 was to reduce its 2005 emissions by 40% to 45%.
“Today, Canada is in a position to raise our climate ambition once again,” he said, adding that he encouraged other countries to follow Canada’s lead.
“You can no longer pollute in Canada for free,” Trudeau said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had the most amusing remarks during the various speeches at the summit.
Johnson said combating climate change “is not going to be easy” and that solutions should not be “some expensive, politically correct green act of bunny hugging. This is about jobs and growth.”
Johnson described Britain as the “Saudi Arabia of wind power,” adding that he was a man who likes having his cake and eating it, too. Or as Johnson said: “Cake, have, eat.”
John Kerry, special presidential envoy for climate, led a roundtable of global financial leaders who talked about investing in climate solutions.
Kerry said meeting the challenge of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 won’t be enough.
“Even if we get to net zero, we still have to get carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere,” he said. “This is a bigger challenge than a lot of people have grabbed onto yet.”
Jane Fraser, CEO of Citigroup, said the corporation has made a commitment to be net zero in carbon emissions by 2050.
“Net zero is easy to say, but very hard to do,” she added.
Pope Francis gave a brief message endorsing the goals of the summit.
The pope said climate issues take on “a much greater significance because it is a challenge we have in this post-pandemic time.”
He said while the pandemic is not over, it’s time to look ahead because climate change is a crisis.
“We know that we do not come out of a crisis in the same way. Either we come out better or worse, ” he said.
“We need to ensure that the environment is cleaner, more pure,” the pope said. “We must care for nature so that nature can care for us.”
Another full day of events are scheduled for Friday.