In a move likely to increase pressure on Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to increase Australia’s climate change ambitions, Mr Biden pledged the US would cut emissions at least in half from 2005 levels by 2030.
The commitment drew praise from United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres for “walking the talk” and from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the “game-changing announcement”.
Mr Biden said the steps put the US on the road to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 but stressed his country represented less than 50 per cent of global emission.
“No nation can solve this crisis on our own, as I know you all fully understand,” he said.
“All of us, all of us and particularly those of us who represent the world’s largest economies, we have to step up.”
Mr Biden described the climate crisis as not just a moral but an economic imperative and a moment of “extraordinary possibilities” while stressing, along with Mr Johnson, the jobs possibilities.
“The countries that take decisive action now to create the industries of the future will be the ones that reap the economic benefits of the clean energy boom that’s coming,” he said.
Mr Guterres wants a global coalition on net-zero emissions by 2050, calling for all countries to submit new and more ambitious mitigation efforts.
The UN Secretary-General called for a price on carbon, an end to subsidies for fossil fuel, and the phasing out of coal by 2030 in the wealthiest countries and 2040 everywhere else.
“We need a green planet but the world is on red alert,” he said.
“We are at the verge of the abyss. We must make sure the next step is in the right direction. Leaders everywhere must take action.”
Mr Morrison is attending the virtual summit with dozens of other world leaders but has so far resisted pressure to increase Australia’s mid-term emissions target.
Mr Morrison, while avoiding setting any ambitious new targets, has also pushed new technology such as hydrogen and carbon capture as key to Australia’s plan to address climate change.
Canada ups pledge, China stands firm
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also upped his country’s emissions reduction ambitions, pledging a 40 to 50 per cent cut from 2005 emissions by 2030.
Japan, a heavy user of coal, announced its own new 46 per cent emissions reduction target Thursday as the US and its allies sought to build momentum through the summit.
Korea also pledged to further raise its emissions reduction target and end all public financing for overseas coal-fired power plants.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country is the world’s biggest emissions culprit, followed by the United States, did not make any new commitments, instead reaffirming China’s goal to reach “peak” CO2 emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060.
“Developed countries need to increase climate ambition and action and make concrete efforts to help developing countries accelerate the transition to green and low carbon development,” he said.
India, the world’s third-biggest emitter of fossil fuel fumes, has been pressing the United States and other wealthier nations to come through on billions of dollars they’ve promised to help poorer nations build alternatives to coal plants and energy-sucking power grids.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised the US commitment and stressed the need for solidarity with developing countries.
With the pledge from the US and other emissions-cutting announcements, half the world’s economy had committed to cutting fossil fuel fumes enough to keep the earth’s climate from warming, disastrously, more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Biden administration said.
Mr Biden, a Democrat, campaigned partly on a pledge to confront climate change.
He has sketched out some elements of his $2 trillion approach for transforming US transportation systems and electrical grids in his campaign climate plan and in his infrastructure proposals for Congress.
The coronavirus pandemic compelled the summit to play out as a climate telethon-style livestream, limiting opportunities for spontaneous interaction and negotiation. The opening was rife with small technological glitches, including echoes and random beeps and voices.