Last Thursday was Earth Day, and Biden's virtual climate summit kicked off on that day. The United States hosted this virtual event on climate, namely the Leaders Climate Summit for two days. Leaders Summit on Climate is also the most notable event before the 26th U.N. Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow on 1-12 November 2021. More than 40 world leaders, including European Leaders, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, China's Xi Jinping, Russia's Vladimir Putin, and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, attended this event as they declared after the Biden's invitation. Pope Francis, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, 19-year-old climate activist Xiya Bastida, NGO leaders, and CEOs also participated at the virtual summit. The two-day climate event is essential for the Biden administration to reestablish the U.S. as a reliable global leader on climate change after the official return to the Paris climate agreement.
At the inaugural session, The U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris underlined the importance of combating the climate crisis by saying, "it is imperative we act." Then, the U.S. President Joe Biden exposed his ambition on climate change on more time by calling climate crisis "the existential crisis of our time" and asked world leaders to fight climate change altogether by saying, "We are here at this summit to discuss how each of us, each country, can set higher climate ambitions that will, in turn, create good-paying jobs, we have no choice, we have to get this done.". The U.S. President Biden also pointed to steps the U.S. would take to reestablish U.S. leadership and put the U.S. back to the center of the global struggle to address climate change after the Trump administration. "The signs are unmistakable, and the science is undeniable that the cost of inaction, it just keeps mounting. The United States isn't waiting. We are resolving to take action, not only our federal government, but our cities and our states all across our country, small businesses, large corporations, American workers in every field," he said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to Biden's new attitude by saying she is delighted to see the U.S. as a global leader for climate change. The U.S. President also declared an aggressive new commitment on greenhouse gas emission, which pledges to cut greenhouse gas emission of the U.S. by 52% at the end of the decade. This agreement roughly doubled President Obama's goal set in 2015 as a part of the Paris Climate Agreement. However, Biden's promise might be deceiving because the U.S. pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 50% and 52% by 2030 compared with the 2005 level. Taking 1990 as a baseline, the U.S. now aims to cut its greenhouse emission by 41%-44% until the end of the decade. European Union has already taken 1990 as a baseline to achieve a 55% emission cutting goal by 2030.
President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping was the first national leader to speak right after the inaugural speeches of the vice president and the president. However, Xi Jinping did not announce any modified commitment as his peers did. President Jinping only reiterated the previously announced goals of China at the summit by underlining the plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions at the peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. China is the largest greenhouse gas emitter worldwide, but China's previously announced targets were behind other developed countries that promised to decrease emissions as soon as possible. President Jinping stated that China's dramatic development means performing carbon neutrality in such a short period is still challenging. "China has committed to move from carbon peak to carbon neutrality in a much shorter time span than what might take many developed countries, and that requires extraordinarily hard efforts from China," he said. The president also announced that the Chinese government would stringently manage coal energy plans; coal energy is one of China's most significant carbon emissions sources. Xi Jinping also underlined China's dedication to collectively combat climate change by saying that "China looks forward to working with the international community, including the United States, to jointly advance global environmental governance".
When it comes to the Russian president Vladimir Putin, there was a technical problem, and he stared at the camera in silence while the U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken was introducing him repeatedly for two minutes. Putin stated the need for unity, and he also pronounced that Russia is genuinely interested in global cooperation to fight climate change and carbon neutrality "should certainly unite the efforts of the international community as a whole." Russia's Putin said. Last week on Wednesday, right before the Biden's summit, President Putin gave a national speech and declared that Russia would significantly decrease its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 despite Russia's size, geography, climate and economic structure. He also pronounced the goal to reduce to keep Russia's greenhouse gas emissions to be less than the European Union's over the next 30 years. Briefly, Russia's Putin restated a commitment he had made on Wednesday during a nationwide address at the summit.
Prime minister of Great Britain Boris Johson was also delighted for returning the U.S. as a global leader in combating the climate crisis. Prime minister Johnson stated the importance of technological solutions which people in future will need. Moreover, prime minister Johson proclaimed that struggling with climate change would grant new economic opportunities. Then, he said that "It's vital for all of us to show that this is not all about some expensive, politically correct agreement of bunny hugging, and this is about growth and jobs."
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres and his words were quite pessimistic and alarming on Thursday. He urged global leaders to request more urgency in their efforts to reduce climate change and said that "racing toward the threshold of catastrophe" unless it moves more quickly to slow the Earth's warming. Secretary-general Guterres also noted the past decade was the warmest on record, greenhouse gas level in the atmosphere have stood at threatening levels, and scorching temperatures and epic wildfires have become more common and more intense. He called on leaders to put a price on carbon emissions, end fossil fuel subsidies, ramp up investments in renewable energy and stop funding coal activities in the future.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would raise the climate ambition and plan to reduce its 2005 emission levels by 45% by 2030. "We will continually strengthen our plan and take even more actions on our journey to net-zero by 2050," Trudeau promised. He added that "If all governments and Indigenous peoples and different sectors can come together and work together, then we should be able to find solutions and create real change, and that is why we're here today."
Japan was another country modifying its ambition and goal to fight climate change. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that Japan had set a goal to decrease greenhouse emission, with a significant reduction of 46% by 2030 compared with 2013. Previously Japan had a plan to reducing greenhouse gas emission by 26%, so roughly, Japan doubled its target. However, Japan Climate Initiative (JCI), which includes 300 Japanese companies, local governments, research institutions, and private groups, showed a reaction to the newly announced goals of the Japanese government. They declared that 46% of the reducing plan was just 1% higher than the JCI members had requested. "We expect the government to increase the target to 50% without delay," JCI said in a statement, noting that such a goal would be more in line with those set by the United States and the European Union.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan appreciated U.S. President Biden for organizing this meaningful event and his invitation. "Our moral and conscientious duty is to leave the world entrusted to us in a more livable way to future generations. Climate change affects not only the significant states that pollute the world the most but all of humanity." he said. President Erdoğan stated that "Turkey is also one of the most affected countries by climate change, although Turkey has nearly no historical responsibility on the rise of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere." President Erdoğan also mentioned the renewable energy developments of Turkey by saying that "Currently, the installed power capacity has a share of 52.3% of renewable energy. At this rate, we rank sixth in Europe and 13th in the world. In terms of installed hydroelectric power, we rank second in Europe and ninth in the world," Erdoğan also noted that "Turkey will increase its electricity generation from solar power to 10 gigawatts until 2030 and from wind energy to 16 gigawatts," additionally said, "Thanks to the steps we will be taking, we aim to have 66.6 million tons of carbon dioxide emission reduction by 2023."
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gave various commitments; Bolsonaro was a vocal ally of former President Donald Trump, who previously pulled Brazil back from the Paris climate agreement. On Thursday, he offered a more conciliatory tone at the Biden administration. President Bolsano said that he moved forward his pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by transforming it from 2060 to 2050. He also said that his government had made a "commitment to eliminate illegal deforestation in Brazil by 2030 with full and prompt enforcement of the Brazilian forest code."
According to young climate activist Xiye Bastida, those commitments given by world leaders during the virtual global summit on climate are inadequate to combat climate change. Bastida condemned world leaders because of their unambitious, non-bold, so-called solutions and added the event does not entirely express the communities most at risk of climate change disaster. "I don't want to stand here and read a list of our concerns and demands because if you had been listening, you would know what they are," she said. "The climate crisis results from those perpetuating and upholding the harmful systems of colonialism, oppression, capitalism and market-oriented brainwashed solutions." She also added that world leaders should know it is the end of the fossil fuel era.
The billionaire founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, asked global society to develop new technologies for climate change. Gates said, "Climate change is an incredibly complex issue. We can't reach our goals in this matter using the technologies currently available." According to Gates, conventional energy sources are now cheaper and more popular than "green" ones. However, he believes it is possible to create and make affordable climate-friendly energy sources available. He also thinks that international cooperation is needed to solve the problem of global warming. "I believe that if we take these steps together, we can prevent a climate catastrophe," Gates said. Mike Bloomberg targeted coal plants and added: "The enterprises that contribute the most to climate change are coal-fired power plants. They emit toxic, deadly pollution to the air. "Bloomberg, who holds city governments and businesses responsible for the majority of emissions, also addressed governments and investors: "We cannot beat climate change without a historic amount of investment," he said.
In his closing speech, the host, President Biden spoke optimistically about the two-day summit: "In America, there has never been a challenge that we could never beat if we put it in mind and do it together. I hope countries feel the same. I know we can do this." Referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he called "the murderer" before, Biden said they could meet on a common ground on climate change even if there is a geopolitical enemy.