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Climate Pledges At UN Meeting Highlight Stakes Of Glasgow Summit

September 22, 2021

Leaders of the U.S. and other major economies at this week’s annual United Nations General Assembly offered renewed commitments to tackle climate change, potentially laying the diplomatic groundwork for the highly anticipated global climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

Headlining this week’s events is President Joe Biden’s commitment to significantly boost U.S. financial assistance for poorer nations’ climate efforts, as well as a pledge by Chinese President Xi Jinping to halt investments in overseas coal-fired power plants.

The announcements by Biden and Xi, representing the world’s two biggest carbon emitters and the two largest economies, underscore the stakes of the Nov. 1-12 Glasgow talks that could determine whether countries can chart a course to achieving the Paris Agreement’s long-term goals to keep global warming in check.

Ahead of this week’s events, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who is now president and CEO of the Asia Society, said a benchmark for success at Glasgow will be to make sure that countries’ “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) for reducing emissions under the Paris deal are “robust” and “have defined pathways” for how countries will achieve their goals.

“What China does in its NDC will be critical,” Rudd said at a Sept. 20 event hosted by Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

While Xi’s announcement about divesting from overseas coal plants is widely seen as significant -- with one environmental group saying it could scrap plans for dozens of plants in 20 countries -- it falls short of any change in Beijing’s long-time greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets of peaking emissions before 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2060.

Rudd said observers are watching to see if China in the coming weeks updates its carbon “peak” date closer to 2025, in order to secure near-term GHG cuts that scientists say are increasingly needed.

Amid Market Pressure, China Pledges To End Overseas Coal Financing

China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter and an increasingly large supplier of development aid, is joining other countries in pledging to end financial support for building coal power plants abroad, even while falling short of strengthening targets for limiting its own emissions.

Experts like Rudd say China’s new move on coal financing reflects its sensitivity to international market pressures -- with Western-led capital organizations increasingly focused on low-carbon energy -- even as it resists external pressures to set tighter domestic climate goals.

China’s moves on climate policy are being closely watched in the U.S. and across the world for multiple reasons. For one, increased action by both the U.S. and China is seen as a prerequisite to a successful Glasgow summit, where countries are expected to boost their GHG targets.

Further, any new steps by China on climate policy could counter domestic criticism that the Biden administration’s sweeping climate agenda is harming American competitiveness, even though the president is arguing that his climate plan would put the U.S. on a more secure economic footing.

Biden’s commitment to raise the U.S. contribution to an international goal of $100 billion in annual climate funding for developing countries follows pressure from environmentalists while building on a global consensus for financial measures to dampen the effects of climate change.

Wealthy countries have repeatedly fallen short of their 2015 commitment to provide $100 billion annually for poorer nations, a failure that advocates say hampers the push for greater collective ambition to curb GHGs.

Aiming For GHG Progress, Biden Boosts Climate Finance Aid Pledge

In a bid to prod the world’s largest carbon emitters into setting more ambitious climate targets, President Joe Biden is pledging to further increase the U.S. government’s financial assistance for poorer nations to help address climate change.

Also, Biden’s U.N. speech is being viewed by some as an attempt to strengthen U.S.-European relations following a fractious four years under the Trump administration. “The President did not use the word ‘China,’ and he explicitly rejected the notion that he was engaged in a ‘new Cold War.’ Even so, today’s speech appeared to reinforce his previously stated plan to renew trans-Atlantic ties for the purpose of mounting a united front against China and Russia,” says a Sept. 21 analysis by consulting group ClearView Energy Partners.

In reaction to Biden’s climate funding announcement, Helen Mountford, a top official with the World Resources Institute, said the new U.S. pledge should “provide a positive jolt ahead of” the Glasgow meeting, “at a time when international solidarity is badly needed.”

She added, however, that “much more finance will be needed to support developing countries as they pursue low-carbon, climate-resilient development.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is now eying the Oct. 30-31 meeting in Rome of the Group of 20 largest economies -- scheduled for the eve of the Glasgow event -- as one of the last chances to ensure a successful outcome at this year’s climate summit, the Associated Press has reported.

Despite the new announcements by Biden and Xi, the U.N. issued a report in advance of the General Assembly meeting finding that current Paris deal NDCs are woefully adequate for staving off the worst effects of climate change, setting up an ambitious task for the Glasgow talks.

Reports Urge Action As Biden Strives To Assert Climate Leadership

World leaders are under increasing pressure to slash carbon emissions and prevent the worst effects of climate change, as President Joe Biden is striving to reassert U.S. leadership on the issue ahead of November’s United Nations climate meeting when countries are expected to boost their emission reduction goals.

The findings imply “an urgent need for either a significant increase in the level of ambition of NDCs between now and 2030 or a significant overachievement of the latest NDCs, or a combination of both, in order to attain cost-optimal” pathways to keeping average global temperature increases to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius or limiting it to 1.5 degrees, according to the report, citing the long-term temperature goals of the Paris deal.

If GHGs are not sufficiently reduced by 2030, “they will need to be substantially reduced thereafter to compensate for the slow start on the path to net zero emissions,” the U.N. report warns in its review of the NDCs from 113 parties including the United States.

Also in advance of this week’s U.N. meeting, Biden sought to burnish U.S. climate leadership by announcing an agreement with the European Union to cut by a third methane emissions within 10 years, setting up another goal for international cooperation leading into the Glasgow talks.

At ‘Major Economies’ Meeting, Biden Touts New Global Methane Pledge

President Joe Biden is pressing other world leaders to join a new pledge, developed by the United States and the European Union, to reduce global emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane by 30 percent over the next decade, with the effort to be formally announced during the upcoming Glasgow climate summit.

“I’m grateful to those of you who’ve . . . strengthened your contributions under the Paris climate agreement and put forward ambitious targets for 2030,” Biden said at a Sept. 17 virtual meeting he hosted of the Major Economies Forum (MEF) on Energy & Climate.

“But we know there’s still a lot of work to do, and, if anything, our job has -- in my view -- has grown more urgent,” he added.

The MEF is an Obama-era initiative, revived this year by Biden’s team, that expanded on the George W. Bush administration’s focus on negotiations with a group of 17 countries that are a mix of wealthy, developed nations and major developing countries such as China, India and Indonesia.

A White House readout of the event argued major economies should “commit to faster climate action in this critical decade,” noting at the time there were roughly 40 days until the beginning of the Glasgow meeting.

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