With world leaders unable to come to a consensus on how to quickly curb the rise in temperatures, President Biden on his final day at the UN Climate Summit looked for other opportunities to make progress – negotiating narrower agreements to cut methane emissions and save the world’s forests.
A patchwork of ads sparked a flurry of positive headlines on Tuesday, despite environmentalists’ doubts that the convention will provide the momentum needed to stop climate change before its deadly consequences devastate more parts of the globe.
During a press conference shortly before he left the summit, Biden welcomed the progress made by him and other leaders, but also acknowledged that “we still have a lot to do.”
“People have cause for concern,” the president said. “I’m worried that if we don’t continue to move forward and make the progress we are currently making, we will jeopardize the prospect that we can keep temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius. … “
World leaders announced on Tuesday that nearly 100 countries have joined a global commitment to limit emissions of methane, the gas that heats the planet and is a poorer pollutant than carbon dioxide.
They signed a pact to prevent further deforestation by 2030 – a promise the UK hailed as the summit’s first major achievement, but which experts say will be difficult to keep.
And leaders have hinted that rich countries may be closer to fulfilling their pledge to provide $ 100 billion a year in aid to help poor countries adapt to climate change and move towards cleaner energy sources.
The summit will last for another 10 days, but without the first representatives of most countries.
Before the summit, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the fight against climate change a football game in which humanity is losing 5-1. On Tuesday he said that since then humanity has scored one or two goals, and: “I think we can use it in extra time. “
“There is no doubt that some progress has been made,” he said at a press conference.
But as the leaders of China and Russia, the two countries with the highest pollution levels, were absent from the conference and refused to accelerate their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the stated goal of preventing average temperatures from rising by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius remained symbolic. gesture. Beyond that threshold, heatwaves will become more lethal, forest fires will become more frequent, and floods more devastating, scientists say. In some parts of the world, including most of the Arctic, temperatures have already exceeded 1.5 degrees, with catastrophic consequences.
When asked about the absence of Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden called their decision not to participate in the summit “a big mistake.”
“We came. And by appearing, we made a huge impact, ”the president said. “They’ve lost the ability to influence people around the world and people here at COP.”
He later added, “How do you do this and claim that you now have leadership?”
Other countries, which the US hoped to pressure to accelerate the fossil fuel transition, made only distant promises.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that his country would be carbon neutral by 2070, which fell short of meeting the summit’s mid-century goal of reducing carbon emissions by about 20 years. The Modi country is the third largest source of greenhouse gases in the world.
Shortly before the conference, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman set a new carbon neutral date of 2060, which is also far from the summit’s goal. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that his country will achieve zero emissions by 2050, but has not set more ambitious targets for 2030. This sparked the ire of a British climate change adviser, who told the BBC team that the commitment had been “squeezed out.” Morrison, but was so vague that it didn’t make sense.
US Climate Envoy John F. Kerry has repeatedly stressed over the past two days that the Glasgow talks are not final and that there is room for course adjustment. According to him, negotiations with major polluters to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels will continue.
David Victor, professor of innovation and public policy at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego, said a “general end to China’s participation” at the summit bodes badly for these or future talks.
He said that “it is quite difficult to make progress in collective action when the two largest economies in the world do not get along with each other.”
Victor said that given geopolitical divisions, initiatives such as the methane promise could become more widespread and productive ways to cut emissions.
“It’s about working sector by sector in small teams to demonstrate progress by changing the facts on the ground, and then making it easier to track the rest of the world,” he said.
Environmentalists ranked the international methane deal on Tuesday as one of the fastest ways to relatively quickly drop average temperatures.
Scientists estimate that methane is responsible for about one-third of human-induced global warming, or 0.5 degrees of the nearly 1.1 degrees Celsius of the warming that has occurred since the late 19th century. A pledge, brokered by the United States and the European Union, commits countries to cut methane emissions by at least a third by 2030.
As part of this commitment, Biden and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, announced plans to severely cut emissions from the oil and gas industry, the leading source of industrial methane emissions.
Biden also hosted an event on Tuesday with Johnson and von der Leyen to promote international efforts to finance infrastructure investment in poorer countries. Called Build Back Better World, or B3W, the initiative is intended to serve as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which funded the construction of coal-fired power plants, highways and rail lines in developing countries and increased the country’s influence.
The meeting served as a reminder of how Biden tried to increase pressure on China during this conference and throughout his presidency.
He pledged to work closely with other countries – indirectly pointing out that China is seen as a predatory lender in developing countries – and said that “democracy is still the best way to achieve results.”