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U.S. summit tests Biden and Suga’s ability to lead on climate change



OSAKA – A key two-day climate climate summit starting Thursday, hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden, aims to show that America is once again ready to take a leading role on enacting climate change policies and cutting greenhouse gas emissions to prevent catastrophic global warming.


But convincing the leaders of the 40 invited countries to pledge the deep cuts to emissions by 2030 that scientists say are needed could prove difficult. International concerns remain about the U.S.’s own ability to keep such promises if a different presidential candidate wins in 2024, and there are questions over Biden’s ability to convince China, the world’s No. 1 greenhouse gas emitter, to agree to a strong target.


The summit takes place just one week after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga became the world’s first foreign leader to personally visit Biden since he became president in January. The U.S.-Japan climate partnership that emerged from that meeting reinforces bilateral cooperation in achieving each country’s 2050 net zero emissions goals and 2030 targets. The new partnership calls for more cooperation regarding renewable energy, energy storage, smart grids, hydrogen and carbon capture, among other technologies.


It also represents a chance to further cement the climate commitments made at the Suga-Biden meeting while promoting multilateral efforts to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which the U.S. re-entered in January after previous President Donald Trump withdrew from it. It’s also a chance for Suga to show international climate leadership.


The Paris Agreement calls on nations to make all efforts to keep the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which offers the best chance of preventing the worst effects of climate change. In order to accomplish this goal, nations are obliged to announce their near-term plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.


A key U.N. meeting, COP26, will take place in November in Glasgow, Scotland, to discuss those pledges and plot a way forward, and many nations including the U.S. and Japan are now finalizing plans for 2030.


“The climate summit is the first real test of U.S. international climate leadership 2.0. Most U.S. climate analysts are now united in saying that the U.S. needs at least a 50% cut based on 2005 levels,” said Ed King, international lead at the Global Strategic Communications Council, in an April update on international climate-related developments and the upcoming summit.


Phillip Lipscy, associate professor and director of the Center for the Study of Global Japan at the University of Toronto, said that the U.S. and Japan need to demonstrate to the world that both countries can exercise long-term climate leadership.


“The previous administrations in Japan and the United States were widely criticized for their limited leadership on climate change,” he said. “Suga and Biden are seeking to reverse the perception that their countries are unreliable partners in the global effort to combat climate change.


“The key question is whether they can follow through domestically and credibly signal to international partners that their commitments will survive the next leadership transition.”


The European Union has already announced it will raise its 2030 target from 40% to 55%, and there is great pressure on the Biden administration from many quarters to support a raise to 50%. Other key emitters — such as India, which has committed to a 33% to 35% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030 — could be pressured to make further commitments.


All eyes, however, will be on what new commitments China may declare. China was the world’s top emitter in 2018, accounting for 26.1% of all emissions, according to the World Resource Institute. In that same year, the U.S. accounted for 12.67% of the total, followed by the 27 EU members (7.52%), India (7.08%), Russia (5.36%) and then Japan (2.5%).


Last month, China released its 14th Five Year Plan, the key policy document setting the country’s direction. On climate change issues, China has set a target of an 18% carbon dioxide reduction per capita, and a 13.5% reduction target for energy intensity from 2021 to 2025. The plan also mentions a carbon dioxide emissions cap but does not actually specify one. Nor was there any concrete pledge for a strong 2030 reduction target.


A recent meeting between Biden’s special climate envoy, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, led only to an agreement to cooperate with each other and work with other countries to curb climate change with a sense of “seriousness and urgency.” As U.S.-China rivalry intensified in other areas, experts warn it could be difficult for both countries to make deep cuts.


“Beijing and Washington D.C. are starting to turn the diplomatic screws and climate is getting caught in the crossfire,” King said in his April 1 report.


Chinese President Xi Jinping is one of the leaders set to attend the summit, at the invitation of Biden. It will be the first meeting between the two leaders since Biden was inaugurated in January.


For Japan, the two-day summit is expected to increase domestic pressure on the Suga administration to declare a stronger 2030 target, which is now under discussion. Currently, the goal is a 26% reduction in emissions based on 2013 levels.


In recent weeks, however, domestic lobbying to raise that goal to above 40% has intensified. There are calls for Japan to join the “50% club” — those nations, especially in the EU, that have already pledged a 55% emissions reduction by 2030 based on 1990 levels. That pressure will likely increase further if, before the summit, Biden were to pledge a 50% reduction.


On Tuesday, U.S. media reported that the president is planning to make a pledge to cut emissions in half by the end of this decade.


The Japanese government has indicated that the target could be raised to at least 40%, however environmental groups say an even stronger target is needed. The Japan Climate Initiative, with the support of 208 companies, 22 local governments and 60 nongovernmental organizations, argues for a 2030 reduction target of 50%, saying it’s not only more in line with what is needed to reduce the impact of climate change but that it’s also good international politics.


“Japan needs to strengthen its emissions reduction target from the current 26% to an ambitious level, one that better represents Japan’s responsibility as a leading economy,” says Takejiro Sueyoshi, a representative of Japan Climate Initiative.


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