Biden wanted to rally the world around his new climate target. Not all nations joined

Leaders of 40 countries told the world at a U.S.-sponsored summit Thursday that they were serious about combating climate change, but only a few matched their rhetoric with new commitments for reducing emissions, and those who did said little about how they’d meet those targets.

Even as the virtual summit hosted by President Biden accomplished his goal of restoring the United States to a position of global leadership on the issue, it also revealed the limits of his ability to build support for the more aggressive action that experts say is needed.

“It’s an encouraging start,” Biden said during a break in a series of speeches from other nations’ leaders during the first morning of the two-day summit.

The president announced at the outset that he was doubling America’s initial commitment to reduce planet-warming emissions under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, signaling a break from the U.S. abandonment of that pact under former President Trump. Japan and Canada said they would strengthen their goals as well.
However, China and India — Nos. 1 and 3, respectively, in highest carbon emissions — offered nothing new. Neither country announced stronger plans to reduce emissions in the near term, to end their reliance on coal-generated electricity or, in China’s case, to stop financing the construction of coal-fired plants abroad.

Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized that any international agreements should be centered on “common but differentiated responsibilities,” an often-repeated principle that richer, more developed nations should shoulder more of the burden of fighting climate change after spending decades building their wealth with unchecked emissions.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison avoided making any new promises for his country, despite its role as a major exporter of coal and gas and its worsening problem of extreme wildfires, which, as in California, are believed to be a consequence of global warming. President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil vowed to end illegal deforestation of the Amazon region by 2030, a pledge that sharply conflicted with the reality of the forest’s destruction under his watch.

Biden’s global climate envoy, Secretary of State John F. Kerry, told White House reporters after the opening day’s session that the administration would use persistent diplomacy to bring along leaders of nations that were lagging behind.

“We will have the ability,” he said, “to be able to create enough progress with other countries that those countries are going to come along, too.”

David Victor, a professor of international relations at UC San Diego, said the summit was a sign of how U.S. leadership had slipped under Trump, who not only withdrew from the Paris agreement but also weakened nearly every major environmental regulation.

“In earlier years,” Victor said, “when the U.S. hosted a novel event like this, there would be more novel announcements.”

He added, “The rest of the world is thrilled that the U.S. is back at work on climate policy, but they don’t really know what to believe coming out of the U.S. these days.”

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