World leaders are shown on a screen as President Joe Biden speaks to the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate. Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Largest virtual gathering of world leaders tackles climate crisis

United States President Joe Biden invited 40 world leaders to a virtual Leaders Summit on Climate from April 21–22. Country representatives included the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, or the 17 countries with the largest economies and greenhouse gas emitters. 


“Thank you @POTUS @JoeBiden for convening the #LeadersClimateSummit,” wrote Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, in a tweet. “Europe will be the 1st climate neutral continent. But it does not want to be the only one. Let’s all commit to ambitious emission reductions by 2030, on the way to net-zero by 2050.”


During the first session, 26 country leaders in addition to von der Leyen and the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres spoke of their country or region’s work toward their climate goals or announced new goals.


“Our actions today have a direct bearing upon the future and security of my nation and for others in the Pacific and beyond,” said David Kabua, president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. “Today we are navigating through the storm of climate change, determined to do our part to steer the world to safety.”


The leaders of the top six emitters of Fossil Carbon Dioxide in 2018—China, the U.S., the European Union, India, Russia and Japan—who covered 67% of global emissions, were present during the opening session remarks.   


Biden announced the U.S.’s new goal to cut carbon emissions by 50–52% from 2005 levels—almost double of former President Barack Obama’s goal of cutting emissions by 26–28% by 2025.


Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that Japan would be increasing its emission cut goal from 26% to 46–50% below 2013 levels by 2030.


“Japan will continue strenuous efforts cutting its emissions by 50%,” Suga said at the summit. “Such a goal of 46% in reductions would mean that Japan will raise our current target by 70% and it will certainly not be an easy task. However, by defining a top-level ambitions target, appropriate for the next growth strategy of a nation which underpins global manufacturing, Japan is ready to demonstrate its leadership for world decarbonization.”


Despite the new plans by other world leaders, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison faced backlash from industry and green groups for making no pledge to hit net zero by 2050. The world’s largest exporter of coal and gas and the highest per capita carbon emitter among the world’s richest nations also did not offer any changes to its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% from 2005 levels by 2030 that was set with the Paris Agreement. 


“Australia is on the pathway to net zero,” Morrison said during the summit. “Our goal is to get there as soon as we possibly can. Future generations…will thank us not for what we have promised, but what we deliver.”


According to Reuters, the Australian government released projections in December which stated with the country’s current trajectory, emissions in 2030 would be short of the country’s original goal at 22% below 2005 levels.


“When the PM says we can rely on him to meet Australia’s targets—which are among the weakest climate targets in the developed world—it’s like a naughty schoolboy saying you can rely on him to not do his homework and get a D in maths,” said Australian Conservation Foundation Chief Executive Kelly O’Shanassy. 


The summit also included two roundtable discussions in which over 60 additional countries had representation during discussions regarding climate change


Although many applaud the summit attendees for their new goals in fighting climate change, some argue it is not enough.  


“This summit has seen more targets than an archery competition,” said Kate Blagojevic, Greenpeace U.K.’s head of climate. “While this momentum is important, much more global ambition is still needed if we are to stand a chance of meeting necessary climate goals. Targets, on their own, won’t lead to emissions cuts. That takes real policy and money. And that’s where the whole world is still way off course.” 


“The climate crisis is the result of perpetuating the harmful systems of colonialism, oppression, capitalism, and market-oriented greenwash solutions,” said Climate Justice Activist Xiye Bastida. 


“The 40 leaders who are in this summit are in the majority from the global north, which has perpetuated these systems, The communities who are most affected, those who have endured displacement because of drought, flooding, wildfires, crop failure and human rights abuses are not fully represented here today.” 


Bastida—a youth climate activist from Mexico and leading voice for indigenous and immigrant visibility in climate activism—concluded the session. 


“You will often tell us again and again that we are being unrealistic and unreasonable, but who is being unrealistic and unreasonable with unambitious, nonbold so-called solutions?” Bastida said. “You are the ones creating loopholes in your own legislations, resolutions, policies, and agreements. You are the naive ones if you think we can survive this crisis in the current way of living.”