Bunny hugging and carbon cutting: Key pledges from Leaders Summit on Climate

The US and UK have set the pace with ambitious pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions, while China pledged to curb its coal use at the Leaders Summit on Climate.

UK

Prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed that the UK would cut its emissions by 78% by 2035, or more accurately over the 2033-37 period, the degree advised by the Climate Change Committee last year.

However, the prime minister’s speech differed markedly from the text that he was briefed to deliver.

“It’s vital for all of us to show that this is not all about some expensive politically correct green act of ‘bunny hugging’ or however you want to put it. Nothing wrong with ‘bunny hugging’ but you know what I’m driving at,” he told other world leaders.

“Don’t forget that the UK has been able to cut our own CO2 emissions by about 42% on 1990 levels and we’ve seen our economy grow by 73%, you can do both at once. Cake have eat is my message to you,” he added.

But Labour accused him of hypocrisy in calling for the $100bn goal for providing climate finance to poorer countries to be exceeded, given the government’s recent cut in foreign aid.

EU

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen repeated the EU’s pledge to cut emissions by 55% by 2030. However, an agreement earlier in the week to cap how much carbon sinks such as forests can contribute to that goal effectively increased it 57%, according to MEP Pascal Canfin. However, if CO2 removals are set aside, the goal now translates to an absolute emissions reduction of 52.8%, well short of the European parliament’s demand for a cut of 60%.

“Europe wants to be the first climate-neutral continent in the world. But to save the climate, we need the world. We need all major economies to take their responsibility and to turn the transition into an opportunity for all,” she said.

US

President Biden said that the United States would at least halve its emissions by 2030, compared to those of 2005.

“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, fairer, and cleaner for the entire planet,” he told the summit, which he led.

Biden also said that he intends to double annual climate finance contributions to developing countries by 2024, compared to 2013-16, with finance for adaptation tripling.

China

President Xi Jinping repeated China’s goal to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and hit net zero by 2060,

“This major strategic decision is made based on our sense of responsibility to build a community with a shared future for mankind and our own need to secure sustainable development. 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.

But he also made a number of unexpected announcements, including signalling that the coal-reliant country will now begin to abandon using the fuel.

“China will strictly control coal-fired power generation projects, and strictly limit the increase in coal consumption over the 14th Five-Year Plan period,” which covers 2021-25, “and phase it down in the 15th Five-Year Plan period” of 2026-31, he said.

“Moreover, China has decided to accept the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol and tighten regulations over non-carbon dioxide emissions. China’s national carbon market will also start trading,” Jinping added.

Japan

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 46% by 2030, far more than the 26% that Japan promised in 2015. Japan had been under heavy pressure to upgrade the goal.

“In line with 2050 goals, we aim for a 46% cut by fiscal 2030 as an ambitious target. We will continue to strive toward the higher goal of 50%,” Suga said at a government meeting before the summit. In October, he pledged Japan would reach carbon neutrality by 2050, which could imply building more nuclear power stations – a controversial prospect, considering the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster ten years ago.

“It will not be easy,” Suga told his fellow world leaders. “In order to achieve the target, we will firmly implement concrete measures, while aiming to create a positive cycle that links the economy and environment and achieve strong growth.”

South Korea

President Moon Jae-in said South Korea would no longer finance the construction of coal-fired power stations abroad, following longstanding diplomatic pressure. It will also push to phase out domestic use of the fuel. However, the commitment does not affect a deal to build two new coal plants in Indonesia and another in Vietnam.

The move leaves only Japan and China as the only two major funders of coal developments.

Canada

Prime minister Justin Trudeau pledged to cut emissions by 40-45% by 2030, despite growing pressure from the US and others for a more ambitious goal. However, it is more than the 30% former Conservative government offered at the Paris climate talks in 2015.

"Our priority continues to be battling Covid-19. We rely on science to save lives and develop vaccines but we must also listen to climate science, which tells us we're facing an existential threat," he said.

Canadian emissions were only 1% lower in 2018 than they were in 2005, according to official figures.

Russia

President Vladimir Putin did not offer any new specific emissions targets, though he did say that, “Russia is genuinely interested in galvanizing international cooperation so as to look further for effective solutions to climate change as well as to all other vital challenges.”

The country is the world’s fourth largest greenhouse gas emitter.

India

In partnership with the US, the country has agreed to deploy 450 gigawatts of renewable power.

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