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Leaders Summit on Climate: 5 Key Takeaways from CATF

April 27, 2021

The dust has settled from the first-ever Leaders Summit on Climate at the White House, a gathering of more than 40 heads of state and subnational leaders convened by President Joe Biden. The two-day virtual event served as both the U.S.’s reintroduction to the global climate stage and a key checkpoint for world governments on the road to COP26 in Glasgow. Here are Clean Air Task Force’s key takeaways from the Summit, which was jam-packed with announcements, statements, and commitments from every corner of the world.

1. Global climate ambition grows with the U.S back at the table, but implementation must follow

For the first time, all G7 countries have now set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets on the road to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. European leaders agreed on their landmark Climate Law to reduce emissions by 55% from 1990 levels on the eve of the summit, cementing the European Unions’ position as a global climate leader. President Biden kicked off the Leaders Summit on Climate by unveiling the highly anticipated U.S. Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), setting a target of a 50-52% reduction by 2030.  

The improved U.S. NDC is an achievable goal, but success will hinge on aggressive regulatory actions as well as significantly increased federal funding for carbon-free technologies. Implementation will be challenging, and the need to act fast remains. We look forward to continuing our work in the U.S. to make sure that these reductions can be achieved in the next decade. 

2. Innovation takes center stage

The need for innovation shone through at the Leaders Climate Summit. President Biden explicitly called for increased innovation around carbon capture and zero-carbon fuels to decarbonize industry, and announced plans to quadruple clean energy innovation funding over the next four years. This marks a sea change from previous global climate events, where these crucial technologies might be included in the details but not featured in the speech — despite the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency confirming they are critical pieces of the decarbonization puzzle.

In a session focused specifically on innovation, International Energy Agency Executive Director Dr. Fatih Birol and business magnate and philanthropist Bill Gates highlighted that about 45 percent of the emissions reductions needed to quickly reach net-zero emissions will need to come from technologies that haven’t yet reached the market, pointing to an urgent and immediate need to invest in research, development, demonstration, and deployment.

The U.S. and India announced the U.S.-India 2030 Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership, focused on accelerating clean energy innovation and deployment. Denmark announced a new mission to decarbonize the global shipping sector. Six leaders highlighted investing in carbon capture, removal, and storage technologies, and last week on the sidelines of the summit both Australia and Canada proposed new policies and funding to commercialize these technologies. The U.S., Canada, Norway, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia established a cooperative forum to “create pragmatic net-zero strategies,” including methane abatement and carbon capture deployment.

3. Momentum on methane is growing, but specific commitments are lacking

Despite the urgings of the NGOs like Clean Air Task Force, the U.S. NDC did not include a specific methane target. That’s a missed opportunity. Methane is more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over the first 20 years, and cutting methane emissions is the clearest opportunity we have to reduce global warming in a short timeframe using existing technologies.

However, methane did not stay on the sidelines of the summit. President Biden did mention methane in his keynote address, saying “the United States will also reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gases, including methane, hydrofluorocarbons, and other potent short-lived climate pollutants.” Russian President Putin called for a 50 percent reduction of global methane emissions, while French President Macron and Argentine President Fernandez also called for methane cuts in their Summit remarks.

These are great signs, but concrete commitments are needed to reduce methane now. An upcoming U.N. report finds that solely by reducing methane we can shave off 0.3 degrees Celsius in global warming by as early as the 2040s. That’s a clear opportunity for a climate win at very little cost, and governments should be setting targets and passing specific regulations for sectors like oil and gas immediately.

4. Jobs, jobs, jobs

If there’s one thing every global leader seems to agree on, it’s that ambitious climate action can lift up workers and safeguard the global economy. While climate change poses systemic risks to our economic stability, climate action can create millions of jobs and usher in a new era of prosperity in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Biden-Harris administration has aptly reframed the debate away from one of economic tradeoffs. Good climate policy is good economic policy. As an imperative for decarbonization, fearless innovation will future-proof industries, reduce emissions at home and abroad, and create economic opportunity.

As he closed out the Summit, President Biden said, “Today’s final session is not about the threat climate change poses. It’s about the opportunity that addressing climate change provides, an opportunity to create millions of good-paying jobs around the world in innovative sectors.”

General Secretary of the International Trade Union Sharan Burrow added, “There are no jobs on a dead planet.”

Along these lines, President Biden’s proposal on carbon management in the American Jobs Plan – as part of the NDC – is the largest investment proposal to commercialize carbon management technologies ever put forward by a single government, as a CATF analysis found. The plan could grow U.S. carbon management capacity by more than thirteen times by 2035 while safeguarding and creating tens of thousands of US jobs. 

5. Transnational coordination needed

Above all, the Leaders Summit on Climate hammered home the need for collective action from world leaders. A global crisis requires a global response, and each country has a role to play. After four years of inaction and obstruction, the U.S. has much ground to make up. It must play a leadership role that brings other high-emitting countries to the table. Actors that are further along, such as the EU, must welcome the U.S. back to the table, and continue pushing ambition forward.

We’re beginning to aim higher. We’re starting to better pinpoint the technologies that we must develop and deploy. The world is coalescing around a common purpose. But we need to move faster. We need not just set specific carbon and methane goals, but introduce regulatory actions to achieve them as well. We need to significantly increase investment in technology that will help decarbonize hard to decarbonize sectors like shipping, aviation, and industrial processes. And we need governments like the U.S. and EU to work collectively to both raise the ceiling on climate ambition, while lifting the floor and bringing fellow high-polluting actors into the fold.

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