Boris Johnson has urged world leaders to adopt more ambitious climate targets. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images Boris Johnson has urged world leaders to adopt more ambitious climate targets. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images

US climate summit: Johnson tells world leaders to ‘get serious’ on climate change

Prime minister Boris Johnson has told world leaders that reaching net zero is now more a political than technical question, as China and the US make their own climate pledges.

“The UK has shown that it’s possible to slash emissions while growing the economy,” he told the virtual climate summit convened by US president Joe Biden, which began on Thursday.

“If we actually want to stop climate change, then this must be the year in which we get serious about doing so. Because the 2020s will be remembered either as the decade in which world leaders united to turn the tide, or as a failure,” Johnson told heavyweights such as president Xi Jinping of China, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis. They were also joined by the heads of smaller and poorer nations such as Vietnam, Gabon and the Marshall Islands.

“So let’s come to Kunming in October and Glasgow in November armed with ambitious targets and the plans required to reach them. And let the history books show that it was this generation of leaders that possessed the will to preserve our planet for generations to come.

Aside from the UK’s 68% cut pledge for 2030 and the 78% reduction over the sixth carbon budget period, both based on a 1990 baseline, the US is also setting the global pace. Biden has pledged a 50-52% reduction on 2005 emissions by 2030.

The announcement is “part of the president’s focus on building back better in a way that will create millions of good-paying, union jobs, ensure economic competitiveness, advance environmental justice, and improve the health and security of communities across America,” said a briefing. It follows Biden’s decision to re-enter the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, made on his first day in office. The new target constitutes the US’ nationally determined contribution under the pact.

Part of the plan is to fully decarbonise American electricity production by 2035, hitting net zero across the economy no later than 2050.

Such pledges are clearly having an impact on climate diplomacy around the world, by ramping up pressure for other countries to follow.

Speaking at the conference, Xi said that China would “gradually reduce” its dependence on coal over the 2026-31 five year plan period.

It is the first time that the country’s government has signalled that coal is on its way out of its energy system, according to Byford Tsang of think tank E3G. “The announcement does not specify a clear phase out date for coal and also leaves room for China to increase coal consumption in the next five years,” he tweeted.

Xi did not specify any new climate targets, instead reiterating a promise for emissions to peak by 2030 and hit net zero by 2060. China opened 38 gigawatts of coal-fired generation capacity last year, far more than all other countries combined.

Just ahead of the conference, EU negotiations on a new climate deal concluded with a net reduction of 55% by 2030, though no commitment was reached on net zero obligations for each member state. A new advisory body, comparable to the UK’s Climate Change Committee, will also be established, and sectoral roadmaps drawn up with industry.

But Brussels NGO the European Environmental Bureau dismissed the target as “a farce”, “way below what the science requires and what the European Parliament had called for”, said campaigner Barbara Mariani.

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