Virtual summit pushes for immediate climate action

The US will attempt to re-assert its global leadership on climate change as President Joe Biden hosts 40 leaders at a virtual summit in the White House today and tomorrow, news wires reported. It's expected that the US will unveil an updated carbon pledge that will see its emissions nearly halved by 2030.

Ahead of the meeting, officials urged greater ambition on countries perceived as laggards on climate. President Biden has made climate change a key focus in the early days of his administration. As well as re-joining the Paris climate agreement on his first day in office, he announced early on that he would gather around 40 world leaders for a global summit on Earth Day - 22 April.

Among those attending will be China's President Xi Jinping. Despite serious tensions between the two countries on a host of issues, both sides seem keen to keep climate change separate from these disputes. Last weekend, the two countries issued a joint statement saying they would tackle climate "with the seriousness and urgency it demands".

Speaking ahead of the meeting, a senior Biden administration official spoke warmly about the potential for co-operation. "It's quite clear that there is a distinctly shared level of ambition. Both countries see this as a crisis. Both countries see the need for action in the 2020s. Both countries see the need to work towards holding the increase in global temperatures to 1.5C," he said cited by the BBC.

But for other countries who have been slow to embrace action on climate change, the Biden team were less effusive. Both Brazil and Australia's sceptical approach to the issue had found favour in the Trump White House. That's no longer the case. "At the moment, I think that our colleagues in Australia recognise that there's going to have to be a shift," one official said.

But while the US is talking strongly about ambition, the proof of change for many observers will be in their new carbon-cutting pledge for 2030 they are expected to announce at the summit. This will require some clever footwork from the US. They will have to go for a figure that is scientifically credible but also politically achievable.

More on this subject: Climate crisis

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