Global Leaders Announce New Climate Goals at Biden’s Earth Day Summit

The U.S. announces a new goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50%.

President Joe Biden givens opening remarks at the Earth Day 2021 Leaders Summit on Climate
President Joe Biden givens opening remarks at the Earth Day 2021 Leaders Summit on Climate.

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Today and tomorrow, a group of 40 global leaders are participating in a virtual climate summit convened by the White House. Coinciding with Earth Day, the summit is part of a visible push by the United States to step up its commitment to addressing the climate crisis. It's also an effort to show President Joe Biden is eager to lead on the issue on an international stage after the prior administration dropped out of the Paris Agreement. 

“No nation can solve this crisis on our own,” Biden said in his opening remarks. “All of us, all of us and particularly those of us who represent the world's largest economies, we have to step up.”

Biden announced a new target for the United States to cut greenhouse gasses by 50% to 52% from 2005 levels by 2030. This nearly doubles the target emission cuts laid out by the Obama administration in 2015. 

Other leaders of some of the biggest economies — and biggest emitters — announced plans to make deeper emissions cuts.

"More than marking the United States’ return to the Paris Agreement, the summit is a moment for Biden to appeal to world leaders for deeper engagement, greater cooperation, and more assertive action to confront the widening climate crisis, while we’ve still got time to act,” said Natural Resources Defense Council president Michell Bernard in a statement. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set a new goal for Canada to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, up from 30% by the same year. 

Earlier this week, the United Kingdom announced a new target of a 78% cut by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, in addition to its previous goal of reaching a 68% emissions reduction by 2030. 

Today, Japan announced a new goal of reducing emissions by 46% of 2013 levels by 2030, a change from a previous goal of 26% of 2013 levels by 2030. 

Yesterday, the European Union reached a new agreement to cut carbon emission by at least 55% below 1990 levels by 2030. The E.U. also wants to become the first "climate-neutral" continent, a goal which it aims to reach by 2050.

Chinese President Xi Jinping confirmed his nation’s commitment to peak carbon emissions by 2030, as well as its goal of carbon neutrality by 2060. 

Mexico made a different kind of announcement. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador proposed the creation of a migrant worker program for both Mexicans and people from Central America to participate in three years of agricultural and reforestation work across Mexico. The program could eventually create a pathway to obtain U.S. work visas and even U.S. citizenships. 

The summit also provided a platform for nations that are among the most vulnerable to negative climate change impacts to call on richer nations to help fund mitigation and adaptation efforts. 

Taken together, all of these pledges could go a significant way towards reaching the Paris Agreement’s goals of preventing global average temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees. 

However, the pathway to actually realizing these goals has yet to be laid out in most cases. There are a number of different steps any given country could take to reduce emissions, but it’s likely every country will need to significantly cut the amount of fossil fuel that is used in their power and transportation sectors, as well as take steps to conserve ecosystems that serve as key carbon sinks. Yet many of the nations pledging emissions cuts are still heavily involved in the production of fossil fuels, including China, Canada, and the United States. 

Xiye Bastıda, a Fridays for Future youth activist invited to address the summit, spoke to this tension. “You need to accept that the era of fossil fuels is over,” she said. “We need a just transition to renewables worldwide so that we can stop emitting carbon and focus on drawing down carbon, but most importantly all these solutions must be implemented with voices of frontline Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities as leaders and decision-makers.”