Special Topics in Environmental Management

Ambitious Climate, Emissions Actions Highlighted at Leaders Summit

President Joe Biden hosted the Leaders Summit on Climate April 22–23, 2021, during which 40 international leaders met virtually as part of an extended Earth Day event. The purpose of the Summit was to unite nations around the globe in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Attendees included China President Xi Jinping, Russia President Vladimir Putin, and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Emissions and climate change

Roschetzky Photography / Shutterstock.com

“The Climate Summit is a next step in the President’s plan to employ a ‘whole of government’ approach to combat climate change,” according to a Hogan Lovells LLP article in Lexology. “During the meeting, the U.S., the other invited governments, and key stakeholders set ambitious goals for investing in climate solutions, supporting innovation, and creating new economic opportunities in climate action.”

According to the U.S. Department of State’s website on the Summit, the event “was a key milestone on the road to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) this November in Glasgow and was designed to increase the chances for meaningful outcomes on global climate action at COP26. It reconvened the Major Economies Forum (MEF) on Energy and Climate, a U.S.-led initiative that played a vital role in delivering the Paris Agreement. In addition to the major economies, the President brought other crucial voices into the conversation by inviting leaders of countries that are key stakeholders in the climate fight, including those that have demonstrated strong climate leadership, are especially vulnerable to climate impacts, or are charting innovative pathways to a net-zero economy.”

The United States utilized the Summit to announce several new initiatives, which included:

  • Launching a Global Climate Ambition Initiative, whereby the United States will work with “developing countries in establishing net-zero strategies, implementing their nationally determined contributions and national adaptation strategies, and reporting on their progress under the Paris Agreement.”
  • Setting ambitious benchmarks for climate investments at the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), including “a net zero investment portfolio by 2040” and the goal of “at least one-third of all its new investments having a climate nexus beginning in FY 2023.”
  • Committing to climate investments at the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), where more than 50% of program funding will go to climate-related investments over the next 5 years.
  • Launching a Greening Government Initiative (GGI), co-chaired by the United States and Canada, whereby “GGI countries seek to lead by example in developing and implementing climate action plans that increase the resilience of and mitigate emissions from national government operations and real property.”

U.S. finance initiatives include:

  • Scaling up international financing to address climate needs where the Biden administration intends to double its adaptation financing to developing countries by 2024; and
  • Publishing the first S. International Climate Finance Plan, “which lays out how federal agencies and departments responsible for international climate finance will work together to deliver that finance more efficiently and with greater impact.”

Energy systems transformation:

  • Establishing a Net-Zero Producers Forum, where energy ministries from the United States, Canada, Norway, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia “will create pragmatic net-zero strategies, including methane abatement, advancing the circular carbon economy approach, development and deployment of clean-energy and carbon capture and storage technologies, diversification from reliance on hydrocarbon revenues, and other measures in line with each country’s national circumstances.”
  • Establishing a U.S.-India Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership, which will elevate ambitious climate action.
  • Supporting ambitious renewable energy goals and pathways in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Supporting clean energy mineral supply chains through the Energy Resource Governance Initiative (ERGI), which was “founded by Australia, Botswana, Canada, Peru, and the [United States] to help build sustainable supply chains and promote sound sector governance for the minerals vital to technologies powering the energy transition, such as solar panels, electric vehicles, and battery storage. The [United States] has committed more than $10.5 million in bilateral technical assistance in support of ERGI principles in more than ten countries around the world.”

Transportation sector revitalization:

  • Sparking the zero-emission transportation revolution—at home and abroad,
  • Joining the Zero Emission Vehicle Transition Council, and
  • Reducing emissions from international shipping and aviation.

Ensuring U.S. competitiveness in the future:

  • The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) will launch the Global Partnership to connect U.S. industry to major energy and transportation infrastructure investments in emerging markets.
  • The U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIM) will create a Chairman’s Council on Climate, a sub-committee of EXIM’s Advisory Committee dedicated to advising EXIM on how to better support U.S. exporters in clean energy, foster the transition to a low-carbon economy, and create clean U.S. jobs at home.
  • Support workers and communities in the shift to a global clean energy future.

Support clean technology innovations:

  • Develop clean energy innovation and manufacturing by “accelerating the technology progress critical to advancing sustainable development and achieving a net-zero global economy.”
  • Launch Mission Innovation 2.0, which is dedicated to carbon dioxide removal and GHG emissions reduction.
  • Lead the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate.
  • Join the Leadership Group for Industry Transition (LeadIT).
  • Launch a Global Power System Transformation (G-PST) Consortium.
  • Launch the Foundational Infrastructure for the Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) Program to support the use of small modular reactors with a U.S. initial investment of $5.3 million.

Global Emissions Reductions Commitments

Several countries committed to drastic emissions cuts, according to Hogan Lovells.

  • “Japan promised to cut emissions by 44 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.”
  • “Canada announced it would cut emissions 40-45 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.”
  • “Britain promised to cut emissions 78 percent below 1990 levels by 2035.”
  • The European Commission pledged to meet the European Green Deal goal of making Europe climate neutral by 2050, following a new law between member states and the E.U. parliament to cut emissions by at least 55% by the end of the decade.
  • “China, while only making the vague promise of decreasing emissions to net zero by 2060, vowed to ‘strictly limit increasing coal consumption’ over the next five years.”
  • “Brazil agreed to play a role in climate goals by putting a stop to illegal deforestation by 2030. It should be noted, however, that in an interview earlier this month, Brazil’s environment minister voiced concern that Brazil lacked the resources necessary to reduce deforestation and make such drastic cuts to emissions, and has asked for US$10 billion annually in foreign aid to bolster these efforts. At the Climate Summit, Brazil asked the Biden Administration for US$1 billion in exchange for reducing deforestation by 40 percent. The international community is wary that Brazil will not actually make the promised changes even if provided the requested funds. Under current President Jair Bolsonaro’s regime, the Amazon rainforest has experienced the largest deforestation in more than a decade.”
  • The United States pledged to reach a 50%–52% reduction in economywide net GHG pollution from 2005 levels by 2030.

“Notably, Russia and India, also major carbon emitting countries, did not make new promises on cutting emissions,” Hogan Lovells says.

When discussing global climate security risks, it’s important to keep in mind that different countries have varying degrees of expertise and depths of expertise on climate security, notes GTSC Homeland Security Today.

“On the one hand, the Kenyan Minister of Defense provided a detailed description of actions the UN could take to make climate security part of its ‘core and standing’ mission, and the Japanese Minister of Defense crisply outlined the risks facing Japan and its plan to stand-up a MoD ‘climate change task force,’” according to Homeland Security Today. “On the other hand, the Minister of Finance from The Philippines focused primarily on new legislation regarding single-use plastics in his country. This range of experience presents an opportunity for the United States to help other countries increase their understanding and capacity to address climate security risks.”

As outlined by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP in Lexology, there are five key takeaways from the summit:

  1. Climate diplomacy. The fact that Russia and China participated is a big win, considering previous U.S. sanctions and criticisms of both nations. “Despite these tensions, China announced it will accelerate the phase down of coal, and President Xi and President Putin both expressed a desire for international cooperation in their Summit remarks—small, but nonetheless important steps forward,” according to Akin Gump. “China’s statements build on the dogged efforts of John Kerry, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, who successfully negotiated a very forward-thinking joint statement with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, in Shanghai last week, which described climate change as a ‘crisis’—a first for China—and conveyed a shared ‘urgency’ for ‘enhancing their respective actions.’”
  2. Ambitious U.S. goals. “The administration’s pledge to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 to 52 percent by 2030—which serves as the U.S.’s new ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’ (NDC) under the Paris Agreement—significantly builds on President Obama’s initial NDC of 26 to 28 percent by 2025,” Akin Gump adds. “To achieve this goal, the Biden-Harris administration suggests the U.S. will rely on aggressive regulation of mobile and stationary sources and leverage action in key states.” More details will be needed to determine exactly how the administration plans to meet the pledge, but according to Akin Gump, “credible studies from the America Is All In coalition and Energy Innovation show the NDC is achievable, but requires Congress to pass new legislation—a significant challenge given the close partisan split.”
  3. The U.S. finance initiatives. As discussed above, there has been a drastic shift in U.S. finance initiatives, including the U.S. International Climate Finance Plan.
  4. Meaningful carbon pricing as a global goal. “Many world leaders and other Summit attendees stressed that a meaningful carbon price is necessary to catalyze the level of innovation and investment needed to achieve the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals,” according to Akin Gump. “Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, said the biggest step governments can take this decade is to adopt a robust carbon price coupled with the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies—a point echoed by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Georgieva further called for agreement among G20 nations on carbon pricing, for example, by setting a carbon price floor, arguing that such an agreement would shield industries in those countries from trade wars likely to arise from the imposition of border carbon adjustments.”
  5. Enhanced commitments from major global economies. The summit confirmed the ambitions of many nations across the globe to address climate change through greater commitments to reduce GHG emissions.

Next Steps

It’s important to note that the cooperation of a closely split and bipartisan Congress, along with federal agencies and private industry, will be necessary to achieve the Biden administration’s ambitious climate goals.

“Businesses should closely monitor developments as the Biden Administration enumerates its policy agenda to meet the targets announced at the Summit—an agenda that likely will seek to induce changes across the economy to incent greater investment and development of climate-friendly energy products and technologies that are necessary to combat climate change,” according to Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Door LLP’s article in Lexology.