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Climate change: Earth Day summit aims for more consensus on cutting emissions

US President Joe Biden will aim to kick-start a crucial year of action on climate change today as he hosts 40 world leaders at an Earth Day summit.

The virtual White House meeting coincides with President Biden’s expected promise to slash America’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030, nearly doubling its previous target.

The pledge and the summit represent a concerted US effort to reclaim credibility and leadership on climate change after four years of inaction under Donald Trump.

A senior administration official said the Biden administration is increasing its own targets in order to more effectively convince other countries to do the same.

They said the summit will focus on momentum and ambition, economic opportunity, green finance and innovation, and that “the expectation for all countries is that ambition has to be increased immediately”.

The White House summit is the first major inflection point in a series of high stakes opportunities for progress on climate change, from the G7 and G20 meetings over the summer and autumn to an important United Nations climate meeting hosted by the UK in Glasgow in November, known as COP26.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping has made a late decision to join the summit Pic: AP

Biden’s gathering will be watched closely as an indicator of the strength of ambition amongst the big economies who emit the majority of the world’s greenhouse gases, but also how geopolitical challenges might clash with progress as the international community battles to keep global warming under control.

China’s President Xi Jinping made a late announcement that he would attend after a jointly released US-China statement pledged increased cooperation in the fight against climate change.

Many observers were pleased that China, the world’s largest polluter, used the word “crisis” to describe climate change for the first time.

But others have said that in order for the world to limit warming to 2C and to keep the target of 1.5C “within sight”, China has to cut its emissions further and faster, and provide a detailed plan to do so.

China has been reluctant, arguing that as a developing nation, reaching net zero emissions by 2060 is the best it can do.

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Brazil, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Australia, India and South Africa will also be under pressure to deliver more, as countries like the US and the UK push hard for a decade of action now in order to guarantee net zero global emissions by 2050.

They are backed by scientific models that suggest the next 10 years will decide whether the world can avoid the very worst effects of climate change, and they will be urged on by leaders of vulnerable nations who are desperate for the international community to do more.

The UK’s chief climate negotiator for COP26 Archie Young said in a briefing this week that “we all need to move into a new gear”.

The UK recently released its own increased target to reduce its emissions by 78% by 2035.

The EU has announced it is aiming for a 55% percent reduction by 2030.

Nations engaged in the so-called ‘race to zero’ will need to bring about rapid and radical changes in energy production, transport and manufacturing among other things.

Doing this successfully requires two often elusive elements; international consensus and domestic political will.

Joe Biden’s new target, for example, needs to be both aggressive enough to send a message to the world and achievable in a closely divided Congress.

Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Jennifer Morgan, said: “History has to be made at Biden’s Earth Day Summit.

“True climate leadership requires laws and regulations to phase out fossil fuels, end deforestation, and restore nature.

“Our survival depends on real climate action.”

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