Climate Summit: Words Do Not Match Action

Dr. Kamal Uddin Ahmed

27 April, 2021 12:00 AM printer

Climate change significantly impacts our lives, economy and environment. It is now more dangerous than projected earlier. The consequences of climate change around the globe are devastating. Climate experts believe, human actions are responsible for climate change. Undoubtedly, combating the global climate catastrophe is crucial for our survival.

While most of the countries of the world have signed the 1994 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Treaty, a lot of them have not taken actions to strongly address it. Besides, global efforts to tackle climate calamity encountered a setback when U.S. President Donald J Trump pulled out from the Paris climate agreement in November 2020. The Paris agreement planned a road map to climate actions as well as underlined international response to the danger of climate change.

President Joe Biden now wants to re-establish credible U.S. leadership in the battle against human-caused climate disaster. Accordingly, on the very first day at the White House, President Joe Biden declared to return the U.S. to the Paris climate accord on curbing global carbon emissions.

To strengthen his climate effort, President Biden invited as many as 40 world leaders to a summit on 22-23 April 2021. The U.S. - sponsored virtual summit took place on the Earth Day. It was held before the United Nations conference scheduled for November in Glasgow, United Kingdom. The meeting was streamed live for raising public awareness of climate change and its risks.

Participants in the summit included, Chinese President Xi Jinpin, Russian President Vladimir Putin, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, among quite a few others.

The summit looked at means to reduce global warming by the end of this decade. In fact, the goal was to advance concerted global action on climate change. The summit underscored two most important questions. First, the urgency and seriousness to curb greenhouse gas emissions; secondly, the massive economic benefits.

President Biden said the U.S. could not act alone to fight global climate change. He added that particularly those who represent the world's largest economies, have to step up climate change actions. Biden declared that the U.S. will double its annual public climate funding to developing nations by 2024.

Biden also stated that the U.S. will strive to increase its Paris target to a reduction in emissions between 50 to 52 per cent by 2030 on 2005 levels. Obviously, his climate goal is much more ambitious and aggressive than that of former President Barack Obama. However, analysts believe, attaining the goal would demand far-reaching changes in how Americans power their homes, currently run on gas furnaces, and their economy, in particular means of transportation, and industrial units, mostly dependent on fossil fuels.

Chinese President Xi Jinping underscored that any international agreements ought to be centred on “common but differentiated responsibilities,” and on principle that richer, more developed nations should take on more of the burden of fighting climate change, as developing nations need to grow faster to catch up. Moreover, since historically, developed nations contributed disproportionately more to the climate crisis, they must also share a greater burden to address it.

In his speech to the virtual summit, UN Secretary-General António Guterres cautioned that the world continues to see rising sea levels, scorching temperatures and deadly levels of air pollution. He asserted that “World leaders must act now and put the planet on a green path, because we are at the verge of abyss.” Indeed, taking tougher action on global emissions is crucial now than taking it in future.

The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa had also called on developed nations to do more to support them to meet their climate targets.

Besides the United States, countries like Japan, Canada and Brazil made fresh commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions. However, China and India — two of the largest contributors to carbon emissions did not make any new pledge. They did not declare plans to reduce emissions and end their dependence on coal-generated electricity and halt investment in the construction of coal-based power ventures in a foreign country.

Although a major exporter of coal and gas, the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also did not make any new commitment for his country on the emissions targets. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged the developed countries to construct an immediate and ambitious action plan. To tackle the climate crisis, she put forward four proposals involving reducing global emissions, transferring technology and ensuring attainment of annual target of mobilising $100 billion.

On the closing day of the virtual meeting, the U.S. and other nations focussed on how they could meet their targets and step up development of renewable energy. President Biden concluded the climate change summit highlighting the need for global partnerships. While the world leaders seemed to be serious about fighting climate change, then a few of them matched their rhetoric with new pledges for reducing emissions, and those who did, defined little about how they would successfully meet those targets.

To conclude, the adverse effects of climate change is a global challenge. It is causing loss of lives and destruction of environment and economy. The summit possibly enabled Biden to re-establish the U.S. global leadership on climate diplomacy. But it also exposed limitations of his ability to build sufficient support for a coordinated and aggressive climate action which is indispensable for our survival and achievement of sustainable development goals.


The writer is a former Professor and Chairman, Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.