President Biden’s Climate Summit: Strategy or a Showcase?

It is quite shocking to realise that current atmospheric CO2 levels of over 400 parts per million (ppm) have caused a dangerous planetary energy imbalance, equivalent to the amount of energy of exploding more than 400,000 ‘Hiroshima’ atomic bombs per day, 365 days per year, across our planet (We cannot even imagine the magnitude of such devastation). The last time atmospheric concentrations of CO2 were over 400 ppm, the seas were 70 to 90 feet higher, Greenland had no ice, and coral reefs suffered a major extinction. Similar conditions will result if we traverse on the same path. It is high time that we drastically reduce CO2 emissions and naturally sequester excess concentrations of atmospheric CO2 in this century. Most importantly, it is the children who will largely shoulder the costs of human-caused climate change. Further upsurge in global temperature, will saddle them with an enormous, perhaps incalculable, cost burden, undermining their as well as the nation’s economic security.

The US President, Joe Biden, has highlighted his reinstated focus on ‘Climate Change Action Plans’ since the start of his election campaign. His unwavering quest to tackle climate change has led him to become the most ambitious of any mainstream US presidential candidate. The foremost action by him was to re-join the Paris Climate Agreement, that the ex-president Trump withdrew from earlier in his term. Rejoining the agreement is quite significant as it restores the trust of the most powerful global economy in the most capable global solution to tackle the climate crisis. President Biden convened world leaders for a two-day virtual global climate summit to depart a message that “the US is back and ready to lead.” Yet, it is to see how far he can go with his audacious commitment. The “Biden Climate Plan” is the most ambitious and progressive climate strategy the US has ever attempted, which is also the reason it has become a major topic of discussion for the global community. The key focus of the plan is the promise of reduced carbon emissions, which if worked out as planned, will positively impact the planet because the US has the second-highest carbon emissions in the world. These emissions are titled to having a disastrous effect on the planet. Carbon dioxide is the most dangerous and prevalent greenhouse gas, which is the cause behind a plethora of environmental and health issues like global warming, respiratory diseases, air pollution, extreme weather, increased wildfires, food supply disruptions, etc. We all have been witness to all it very recently, which falsifies our perceptions such as “it will not happen now, there is time.”

The major promise of the “Climate Summit” event was to cut the US greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% below the 2005 levels by 2030, a clear demonstration that climate is at the centre of his agenda. That he did so in front of various Presidents, Prime Ministers, and a King depicts that the White House has the known influence to draw world leaders together. He also promised a rise in the annual spending of the US to $5.7 billion by 2024, if he can get congress to agree.

A key takeaway is that all of these are mere promises, which will only garner trust and belief for a better tomorrow when coupled with action. Besides, as experts say, a mere 50% cut is not even compatible with the Paris Agreement holdings. In consonance with the Russian President's statement, only focusing on carbon emissions underplays the role of methane (which is much more harmful than carbon dioxide) and does not help us in dealing with the already existent emissions in the atmosphere as well. President Biden also released a $2.25 trillion investment plan which highlighted their green priority. Titled “American Jobs Plan”, it aims at infrastructural advancements for sustainable pathways and also in infrastructure which bolsters research ventures for climate change and clean energy. This is in line with his promise of 100 per cent carbon-free electricity for the US by 2035.

On the other hand, the resolution adopted by the US has worded this as “The US demands a national, comprehensive, science-based, and just climate recovery plan prepared by the departments and agencies of the executive branch with delegated authority over energy and climate policy, that puts the United States on a trajectory consistent with reducing global atmospheric CO2 to below 350 parts per million by the year 2100 to uphold children’s fundamental rights.” The year 2100 is not a realistic goal to achieve the said proposition. We are not even sure whether we will be alive by that time. This depicts the difference between promises and actions. This recent resolution adopted by the US parliament does not seem to be leading the change, but rather a wordplay and interest in ephemeral limelight. It should have constituted real obligatory guidelines that need to be followed for the change. There are various fundamental tensions which include questions such as whether to price carbon, which is a suitable approach to use coal, coupled with the fear of competitive disadvantages at the global level. The developing countries have rallied to state that it is the developed countries like the USA, China and Russia which have caused the major part of the problem and thus, they are the ones that should take the major steps to curb the problem. Yet when the US speaks as it did, on a global stage, I can barely gather any hope for the positive to happen. Uncertainty still looms large. There still exist disagreements on the very basics as to which year should be used as a baseline for measuring carbon emission reductions. (If this is the future as well, I don’t think we should imagine life on Mars. duh!)

Despite the efforts, which include mere verbiage, it is a saddening fact that the necessary promptness in actions is out of sight. Mere ambitions and promises cannot get things done. This is also why it is expected from a world-leading nation like the US, that it sets examples for the world to follow and yet the actions fail to depict it. The urgency of actions is still not a mindset which is why there is a lack of actionable pointers. There are known ways for reducing the harm done, NGOs that care, people who have devoted their lives for a better planet and alas! no government is strict in its implementation and actionable efforts. If one does not act on their words, what is the use anyway? Raised ambitions in the form of hollow words are what we are left with, as global citizens of a common planet.

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