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President Joe Biden is bringing together dozens of foreign leaders along with corporate executives, union heads and Pope Francis in a two-day virtual summit meant to invigorate the global fight against climate change and restore U.S. credibility on the issue.
The heads of state of all 40 nations invited have agreed to attend the event, which begins on Earth Day, Thursday, as Biden seeks to prove the U.S. is committed to making deep greenhouse gas emissions cuts needed to avert the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.
The gathering is aimed at driving more aggressive climate action that can keep average temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), a key tipping point.
The leaders of some of the world’s top-emitting countries will appear alongside officials from smaller, island nations that are already dealing with the consequences of a warming planet. Chinese President Xi Jinping is slated to appear during the conference and Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to make live remarks.
About 18 top executives from the U.S. government, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, also will participate, as will executives from Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp., electric vehicle maker Proterra Inc. and other companies.
Biden administration officials said they are “upping the ante” on climate change ambition and intend to utilize all the tools available to confront the crisis, including finance, which will be in focus on the first day. While many recent international climate change discussions have focused on the role of multilateral development banks and formal climate assistance programs, the conversation at this week’s summit will include a more expansive look at the role of private capital in propelling clean energy and building resilience, the administration officials said.
The agenda also includes a Thursday session on nature-based solutions to climate change, such as reducing deforestation, promoting sustainable agricultural practices and conserving wetlands.
Friday’s summit will focus on unleashing technological innovation necessary to curb emissions and the economic opportunities of climate action.
The administration officials plan to point to sustained climate action by corporations and state governments as a sign of enduring U.S. progress, even as former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accord and dismantled domestic policies key to driving emissions cuts.
Biden has made combating climate change a priority. He’s launched an interagency task force, deputized a White House climate czar to coordinate action and directed agencies to consider a suite of new rules meant to spur clean energy. This week’s summit marks his first big step to address climate on the global stage.
In the weeks leading up to the summit, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry has been traveling the globe, working to coax stronger emissions-cutting pledges from U.S. allies. Some of those efforts have borne fruit, as Japan, Canada, the U.K. and other nations are expected to outline more aggressive targets for paring planet-warming greenhouse gases.
The administration officials, noting that the U.S. is responsible for 13 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, said they anticipate participating nations will use the forum to make announcements about their own plans for combating climate change.
On Wednesday, Kerry said he expects Xi to “to make some announcements” about what China plans to do to address emissions between now and 2030. The next nine years, Kerry said, are critical for putting the Earth on a path to slow global warming.
“If we don’t have people signing on to raise ambitions by 2020 to 2030, we don’t get to where we need to go by 2050,” Kerry said during a Washington Post interview streamed online. “And there is no holding the Earth’s temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Centigrade.”
Even before it starts, the U.S. climate summit is helping galvanize greater ambition, said David Waskow, director of the World Resources Institute’s International Climate Initiative. Still, a key test will be how much funding the Biden administration dedicates to aiding developing nations in adapting to climate change and pursuing clean energy projects, Waskow said.
“Clearly the summit has propelled action in the early part of the year,” Waskow said. “There’s much more to be done, but this does give the traction that we need.”
Kerry’s push so far has not prompted India, the world’s third-biggest emitter, to declare a target for achieving net-zero emissions domestically. And other nations, such as Brazil, are seeking more financial support to curb deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.
Other challenges surround negotiations with China, as the U.S. seeks to compartmentalize talks on climate amid concerns around trade, intellectual property and human rights. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Monday that the U.S. won’t let other countries use climate progress as a chip “to excuse bad behavior in other areas.”
Xi, meanwhile, issued a veiled critique of his own on Tuesday, as he urged other nations to avoid “bossing others around,” and insisted that “the future destiny of the world should be decided by all countries.”
The U.S. pledge would require dramatic changes in the U.S. energy landscape, from the way electricity is generated to the cars traversing the nation’s highways. The U.S. would also need to curtail emissions from the industrial sector, with carbon-capture technology deployed at ethanol factories, cement makers and petrochemical plants.
Ahead of the summit Thursday and Friday, Biden is set to announce a U.S. vow to at least halve domestic greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by the end of the decade, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Biden administration also is advancing a slate of policies meant to buttress that carbon-cutting pledge -- including work to marshal U.S. government spending on electric vehicles and devote more money to helping other nations pursue clean energy.
--With assistance from Ari Natter, Jessica Shankleman, Will Wade and Leslie Kaufman.