At a two-day Washington virtual summit April 22-23, President Biden urged the 40 participating nations to counter the problem of increasing planetary pollution seriously and with the urgency that crisis demands.
One approach: what philanthropist Bill Gates describes as huge new public and private investment in innovation globally to avoid catastrophic climate change. “Just using today’s technologies,” Mr. Gates stressed, “won’t allow us to meet our ambitious goals.”
Mr. Gates said he was working with partners on a program called Breakthrough Energy that would raise money from philanthropies and private industry to make capital investments to bring down the cost of new clean technologies.
Reuters quoted President Biden as saying: “Nations that work together by investing in a cleaner economy will reap the rewards for their citizens.” On his first day in office January 20, the Mr. Biden had returned the U.S. to a 2015 international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
On the final day of the just-concluded Washington virtual summit, the president announced a new U.S. goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 50-52 percent by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. Japan and Canada also raised their target goals. “The commitments we made,” Mr. Biden said, “must become real. Commitment without us taking action is just a lot of hot air… no pun intended.”
A contemporary moonshot?
U.S Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm added: “Clean technology is our generation’s “moonshot.” As she put it: “My department will be announcing new goals for ‘leaps ahead’ in next generation technologies.” Among them: carbon capture, energy storage and dealing with industrial fuels.
Secretary Granholm announced a U.S. partnership with Canada, Norway, Qatar and Saudi Arabia called the Net Zero Producers’ Forum. Its aim: developing long-range strategies to reach global net-zero emissions. Ms. Granholm also announced a partnership with Denmark to zero out emissions in the world’s shipping industry.
Key reactions by other summit participants
*China’s President Xi Jinping said his country would “strictly limit increasing coal consumption in the next five years” and phase it down beyond that to 2031.
*Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 40-45 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
*Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that Tokyo would cut emissions 46 percent below 2013 levels, also by the end of this decade.
*German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “I’m delighted to see that the Biden administration (after that of President Trump) is back to work with us in climate politics, because there can be no doubt about the world needing your contribution.”
*Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, leader of the world’s fourth largest greenhouse gas polluter, set out only a longer-term goal — that his country would reduce “significantly the net accumulated emissions in our country by 2050.
*Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro promised to eliminate illegal deforestation by 2030. But expert environmentalists at the summit were skeptical. They noted that destruction of the vital Brazilian rainforests, a move as indispensable to curb global warming, has been minimal since Bolsonaro became Brazil’s chief executive in 2018.
Where do we go from here?
Momentum is there. This initial foreign policy initiative of the new Biden administration, according to the Washington Post’s Anne Gearan, has elicited promising responses by several other world leaders, including most of those listed above. Among their pledges:
- Speed up cuts in their nation’s carbon emissions
- Restore forests where possible
- Phase out coal plants and
- Put people to work building wind turbines and solar panels.
Significant key steps for U.S. diplomacy would appear to be to track closely significant pledges made at the Washington summit, and to fashion a candid progress report for a follow-up U.N.-sponsored conference on climate change in Scotland next November. That would be a timely illustration of U.S. public diplomacy at its best, just 10 months into a new American administration.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More