As climate crisis threats multiply, the leaders of top polluting countries gathered for an international climate summit but some still failed to pledge to ramp up their goals to reduce carbon emissions and slow global warming.

Extinction Rebellion DC blocks 17th Street after dumping cow manure outside the White House on Earth Day to protest President Biden's climate plan in Washington, US, April 22, 2021.
Extinction Rebellion DC blocks 17th Street after dumping cow manure outside the White House on Earth Day to protest President Biden's climate plan in Washington, US, April 22, 2021. (Reuters)

US President Joe Biden's two-day virtual "Leaders Summit on Climate" to discuss the latest initiatives and targets to tackle global heating has been attended by world leaders, including some from the top polluting countries. While talk has been big and generous, it has raised questions of the achievability of set targets.

The two-day summit is part of Biden's efforts to restore US leadership on the issue after his predecessor, Donald Trump, withdrew the country from the legally binding Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 2017. Biden reversed the decision shortly after taking office.

The climate summit, symbolically kicked off on Thursday, on Earth Day.

Country leaders were joined by executives from big banks and energy companies, billionaires and other entrepreneurs. 

Biden and US Vice President Kamala Harris opened the summit by asking dozens of leaders to declare new goals to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius.

We take a look at the promises and initiatives of the world's three largest polluters with the highest greenhouse gas emissions and what they are doing to reach their assertive targets.

READ MORE: Biden pledges to double climate aid for developing countries

China

China will start phasing down coal use from 2026 as part of its efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions, President Xi Jinping said at the summit, disappointing campaigners hoping for more ambitious pledges.

Xi, speaking via video, said China was committed to green development and upgrading its coal-dependent energy system, a major source of climate-warming emissions.

"We will strictly limit the increase in coal consumption over the 14th five-year plan period (2021-2025) and phase it down in the 15th five-year plan period (2026-2030)," he said.

Xi's comments mean that China's coal consumption, by far the highest in the world, will reach a peak in 2025 and start to fall thereafter.

Most worryingly, China remains committed to supporting the coal industry even as the rest of the world experiences a decline, and is now home to half of the world’s coal capacity. 

China’s coal activities remain inconsistent with the Paris Agreement. 

It would need to phase out coal before 2040 under 1.5˚C compatible pathways, but it appears to be going in the opposite direction. 

The Climate Action Tracer rates China as “highly insufficient” to reach climate goals.

China's CO2 emissions rose in 2018 and 2019, and 2020 GHG emission data shows an increase by 0.8 percent in the upper bound and a decrease by 7.7 percent in the lower bound compared to 2019 levels, with most of the drop due to the pandemic.

China is on track to achieving its 2030 peaking target and overachieving its carbon intensity without showing significant progression in its climate action.

READ MORE: China and US commit to urgent cooperation on climate crisis

United States of America

Telling the world that it must “overcome the existential crisis of our time,” Biden announced a new goal of cutting US greenhouse gas pollution by 50-52 percent by 2030.

The aggressive 2030 goal seems hard to achieve as the US's pledge to cut GHG emission to 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 is not even on track to be met. 

The White House is formally embracing that goal but in announcing the marker in a call with reporters, administration officials notably did not provide any new details on how, exactly, the US will achieve those reductions.

The previous target was set under the Obama administration but the country had been pulled out of this commitment by Trump and his Republican majority and many other federal efforts to reduce emissions.

The Biden administration has been under pressure to set and achieve ambitious goals as the Democratic leader used climate activism and promised action during his electoral campaign. The pressure comes from environmental advocates and a group of corporations that recently signed a letter calling on the administration to cut emissions in half by 2030, double the goal set by Obama.

US net emissions declined 12 percent from 2005 to 2017 due to a range of market- and policy-related factors. Electric power sector emissions fell 27 percent as a result of a shift from coal to natural gas, increased use of renewable energy, and a leveling of electricity demand. Improved vehicle efficiency helped reduce transportation-related emissions by nearly 6 percent, although transportation emissions have been increasing since 2012.

C2ES analysis projects that by 2025, US emissions could be 14 percent to 18 percent below 2005 levels, far short of both the Obama and Biden administrations' goal and certainly far short of what is needed to address climate change.

The United States bears a significant responsibility as the source of 13 percent of current global emissions and more cumulative emissions than any other country.

READ MORE: Less than a quarter of world’s top companies meeting climate targets

India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, speaking from the world's most polluted capital city New Delhi, failed to announce new targets.

But he promised a "partnership" with Biden to mobilise green investment and urged a greater "lifestyle change" to fight climate change.

"We in India are doing our part," Modi said, pointing to his country's ambitious renewable energy target of 450 gigavolts by 2030.

He also noted that India's per capita carbon footprint is 60 percent lower than the global average because many Indians remain "rooted in sustainable traditional practices."

Despite being among the first countries to join in the Paris Climate accord in 2015, India is currently the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the US.

The country is vulnerable to climate change because of its vast natural resources and environmental diversity. For instance, the degree and periodicity of melting Himalayan glaciers and changing monsoons are intensifying, posing threats to the region.

India pledged to reduce the emission intensity of their economy by 33 to 35 percent compared to 2005 levels by the year 2030.

In 2015, the country’s GHG emissions stood at 3,571 million tonnes of CO2, according to the data compiled by Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.  

India’s per capita emissions are less staggering, with measurements identifying those levels to be around 130 percent in 2015. As a country, however, they are trending quite poorly. 

According to the IEA, in 2018, India’s emission level increased by 335.33 percent from 1990.

To better provide for its population of 1.4 billion people, India has intensified its productivity.

India has accelerated its industrial and economic activities through investments into agriculture, infrastructure, power, manufacturing, and automobiles to generate economic growth and demand.  Consequently, they are producing greater emissions and experiencing rising pollution levels.

READ MORE: CO2 increase for 2021 predicted to be largest in over a decade

Source: TRT World