Opening photo: President Joe Biden speaks at the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate on Earth Day, April 22. Photo by Adam Schultz
By Emma Sylves-Berry
There is no greater long-term challenge confronting the United States and the world than the climate crisis. The Biden-Harris Administration has made confronting the crisis a top priority. President Joe Biden has directed a coordinated, whole-of-government approach to address the climate crisis and put America on an irreversible path to achieve economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2050.
Just hours after being sworn into office, Biden began the process to rejoin the Paris Agreement, renewing the United States’ commitment to partnering with more than 190 other nations to tackle the global threat of the climate crisis. The United States was instrumental in crafting the Paris Agreement in 2015, which created an unprecedented framework for global action to avoid potentially catastrophic planetary warming while building global resilience to the climate impacts the world is already experiencing. First signed on Dec. 12, 2015, the Paris Agreement aims to hold the increase in the global average temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement works on a five-year cycle of increasingly ambitious climate action carried out by countries through their nationally determined contributions (NDCs). In 2020, much of that work was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The previous administration withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement, Nov. 4, 2020.
In addition to bringing the United States back into the Paris Agreement, Biden appointed former senator and secretary of state, John Kerry, as the nation’s first special presidential envoy for climate. A longtime champion of the environment, dating back to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, Kerry helped negotiate and conclude the Paris Agreement in 2015. In his new role, he leads diplomatic efforts to raise global climate ambitions and is a member of the National Security Council. In engaging with foreign governments, multilateral institutions, the business community, and civil society Kerry and his team seek to raise climate ambitions to put the world on a pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050 and limit the earth’s warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius—the targets necessary to avoid the most catastrophic effects of the climate crisis.
The United States is committed to tackling climate change at home and abroad. Biden signed an executive order, Jan. 27, that made it a U.S. priority to press for enhanced climate action and integration of climate considerations across a wide range of international fora, including the Group of Seven (G7), the Group of Twenty (G20), and other consortiums that address clean energy, aviation, shipping, the Arctic, the ocean, sustainable development, migration, and other relevant topics. The Biden-Harris Administration also committed to partnering with states, localities, tribes, territories, and other U.S. stakeholders to advance U.S. climate diplomacy while creating well-paid union jobs; building modern and sustainable infrastructure; restoring scientific integrity and evidence-based policymaking across the federal government; and re-establishing the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
Biden invited 40 world leaders to participate in the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, April 22 (Earth Day) and April 23. The invited economies represented 80 percent of global emissions and 80 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP). In addition to the major economies, Biden invited other crucial voices into the conversation at the Summit, including leaders of countries that have demonstrated strong climate leadership, are especially vulnerable to climate impacts, or are charting innovative pathways to a net-zero economy. At the Summit, the United States and other countries announced their plans for enhanced climate ambition. The United States set an ambitious new target of reducing its net greenhouse gas emissions by 50–52 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The White House also released the first-ever U.S. International Climate Finance Plan, which doubles the United States overall pledge for international climate financing from previous years and triples funding for adaptation to protect critical ecosystems and build resilience against the impacts of climate change. The plan also promotes the flow of capital toward climate-aligned investments and away from high-carbon investments. By the end of the Summit, countries representing 55 percent of global GDP had stepped forward with pledges consistent with the 1.5 degree Celsius goal. The Summit was a key milestone on the road to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), being held this November in Glasgow, Scotland.
The White House, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Kerry, and others in the Cabinet have wasted no time reengaging the global community on this shared challenge. In the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris Administration, the United States has made it clear that it is a top priority to combat the climate crisis at home and abroad.
Emma Sylves-Berry was a spring intern in the Office of Policy and Public Outreach for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.