Biden calls for climate action as Xi renews carbon neutral pledge

US president wants to cut country’s gas emissions in half by 2030 from the 2005 level, while Chinese leader sets limits on coal consumption.

Biden said that taking action to limit carbon emissions this decade is crucial in averting 'the worst consequences of the climate crisis' [File: Mario Tama/Getty Images via AFP]

US President Joe Biden has opened an international climate summit saying that the United States “isn’t waiting” to lead on an issue of “moral and economic imperative”, as his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, renewed Beijing’s pledge of being carbon neutral by 2060.

“The cost of inaction keeps mounting. The United States isn’t waiting,” he said in the opening address of the two-day summit being hosted virtually by the White House on Thursday.

As part of his vision for a green economy, Biden announced that by 2030, the US aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half of the 2005 level.

“That’s where we’re headed as a nation, and that’s what we can do if we take action to build an economy that’s not only more prosperous but healthier, fair, and cleaner for the entire planet,” Biden said.

“These steps will set America’s economy to net-zero emissions by no later than 2050,” he added, as he pointed out that the US represents less than 15 percent of the world’s emissions.

The White House, however, has yet to roll out specific actions in order to fulfil Biden’s pledge.

In his speech, he urged other world leaders present in the virtual summit, to take action in their own countries, saying that no nation can solve the impending crisis on its own.

“All of us, particularly those who represent the world’s largest economies, we have to step up,” he said, stressing the importance of addressing an “existential crisis of our time”.

“Science tells us that this is the decisive decade. This is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis.”

‘Unprecedented ambition’

Welcoming the US’s “return to the multilateral climate governance process”, Xi then renewed his pledge for China to become carbon neutral by 2060, as he urged other leaders to take “unprecedented ambition and action”.

He first made the carbon neutrality pledge during the United Nations General Assembly meeting last year.

“China will scale up its intended nationally determined contributions [to the Paris agreement] by adopting more vigorous policies and measures,” Xi said, stressing that Beijing will strictly control coal-fired power generation projects and limit the increase in coal consumption over the next five years.

Xi said on Thursday Beijing will strictly control coal-fired power generation projects and limit the increase in coal consumption over the next five years [Nicolas Asfouri/AFP]

Still, environmentalists have voiced alarm at China’s slow pace of retiring coal, which is the dirtiest form of energy but politically sensitive due to mining jobs.

Meanwhile, China leads the world in the deployment of clean-energy technologies. To reach net-zero emissions in less than 30 years, the country will have to increase and refine its efforts. That, in turn, will make them cheaper and enable other countries to set even more ambitious climate goals.

China has already launched a number of initiatives, such as green infrastructure and transport and finance as part of its Belt and Road initiative.

No global solution to climate change is likely without the US and China, since the world’s top two economies together account for nearly half of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Washington and Beijing remain at loggerheads over accusations about China’s policies in Hong Kong and its treatment of Uighurs in its northwestern Xinjiang region – criticisms Beijing rejects as interference in its domestic affairs.

But the rival countries have found common ground on climate change.

China and the US issued a joint statement a few days ago, pledging to cooperate with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies