Earth Day this year was more significant than ever. The world’s eyes were focused on the Biden Climate Summit. The two-day virtual summit set many precedents—from aggressive goal setting to a change of stance in previously noncommittal governments. Perhaps for the first time, we witnessed the United States’ allies and adversaries pledge in unison to save the planet together.
Things have been interesting in the European Union as well, which wanted to send out some strong commitment signals just before the climate summit. The EU member states met and revisited their climate commitments, setting a strong precedent for the world.
The goal is to ensure that Europe is climate neutral in 2050. While many have criticized these ambitious target announcements as publicity stunts, it is important to remember that these talks are continuously evolving. The main issue that members differed on was how much carbon dioxide (CO2) should be saved by 2030. In the end, they agreed on a target to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 55% below 1990 levels.
President Joe Biden rightly called climate change “the existential crisis of our time.” His aggressive new plan aims to reduce the United States’ contribution to global warming by at least 50% by 2030 compared with 2005 levels. Biden’s announcement highlighted the sense of immediacy that others felt as well, and world leaders committed to curbing domestic greenhouse gas emissions and tackling climate change.
A resonant theme at the summit was the sharp increase in numbers. Almost all countries upped their targets from their last known commitments.
- Japan pledged to curb emissions by 46% by 2030 compared with 2013 levels. Japan, the world’s fifth-largest emitter, previously committed to a 26% reduction, a goal that was criticized as insufficient.
- Canada will slash emissions 40% to 45% by 2030 compared with 2005 levels, a major increase from its previous pledge of 30%.
- Even countries like Brazil, which had previously been noncommittal, have committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and end illegal deforestation in the country by 2030.
- South Korea, Russia and India have broadly pledged to reduce emissions in the next three decades, while China has reaffirmed its commitment to peak emissions before 2030 and go carbon neutral by 2060.
Countries like Germany and others in the EU have hailed the summit as a step in the right direction since the USA’s participation in climate politics is essential to bring change.
Why the Urgency?
Immediacy is needed. To avoid the most catastrophic climate change scenarios, scientists have long stressed the need to keep temperature increases below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Since 1880, average global temperatures have increased more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1.2 degrees Celsius. If we do not act now, we will leave behind a wasteland for our future generations.
2021 will mark many more commitments. Nations under the Paris Agreement will update their emissions targets for the next decade at the UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.
Food for Thought: The Economic Repercussions
Climate change affects our environment and our very existence. It poses the biggest risk to the global economy in the long term. Temperature increases cannot stay on the current trajectory. Biden has repeatedly emphasized the dire economic future lest we start being mindful. At the summit, he reiterated the economic opportunity in transitioning to a more sustainable global economy.
A new report from Swiss Re Institute research warns that if both the Paris Agreement and 2050 net-zero emissions targets are not met, then the global economic output will be reduced by $23 trillion annually by mid-century.
If we want to avoid such scenarios, then we must consider every day as Earth Day.