May 7, 2021

NDC Announcement and Climate Summit

Climate Week Report
Beth A. Viola | Devin Barrett | Isabel C. Lane

In the focal point of Climate Week, President Joe Biden opened a global summit on climate change on April 22, 2021, by announcing the United States' new nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement. The target aims to reduce U.S. emissions by 50 percent to 52 percent compared to a 2005 baseline by 2030. When the U.S. joined the Paris Agreement in 2016, the emissions target was a 26 percent to 28 percent reduction below 2005 levels by 2025.

Of particular contention in the international sphere are the baselines for commitments – NDC baselines for countries range from comparisons to 1990 levels to 2013 levels. As emissions have steadily grown since 1990, comparing the U.S. commitment to the 1990 baseline used in other countries' commitments reduces the effective contribution to a 41 percent cut. Furthermore, the target dates for the NDC contributions also vary widely. While most initial NDCs from countries focused on commitments by 2050 or 2060, 83 countries have now updated their Paris Agreement commitments to include a 2030 target similar to the U.S. – considered a significant transition favored by environmentalists.

U.S.-China relations have also been a topic of interest in the international sphere – the collective cooperation of the world's two biggest polluters will set the tone on a critical component of international action. Just before the Leaders Summit on Climate, the countries issued a joint statement on April 19, 2021, reaffirming the goals of the Paris Agreement and agreeing that both countries would seek to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 – 10 years faster than the goal promised by China in 2020. Yet the country's reaction to the U.S.' subsequent announcement of its new NDC was highly critical: "The U.S. chose to come and go as it likes with regard to the Paris Agreement," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian.

Climate Summit

President Biden convened 40 world leaders in a virtual Leaders Summit on Climate on April 22, 2021, to facilitate various roundtables on a coordinated global response to tackle climate change. The Summit comprised five sessions, some of which were led by cabinet officials from the U.S. Department of the Treasury (USDT), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), U.S. Department of State (DOS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Session 1 – Raising Our Climate Ambition: This session highlighted the framework that the United States is implementing to reduce the impact of climate change. These actions will focus on aspects that will promote economic opportunity and create new workforce opportunities, while also ensuring meaningful steps are taken to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50 percent within the next 10 years. While the United States is taking a central role in leading this effort, the session also garnered similar pledges to reduce GHG emissions from other global participants including Japan, Canada, India, Argentina, the United Kingdom, Brazil, China, the European Union, Korea, South Africa and Russia.

Session 2 – Investing in Climate Solutions: Throughout this discussion Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen discussed the need to increase oversight and action from financial institutions to address climate change. In total, these efforts will seek to support the transition to net zero emissions no later than 2050 by increasing public and private investment to support the transition and provide capital resources to finance transitions to technologies, activities and geographies where private capital is lacking. In addition, this forum detailed the need for governments across the globe to embrace other key finance-based climate policies, including meaningful carbon pricing, enhanced disclosure of climate-related risks and phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies.

Session 3 – Breakout Sessions: Discussion of four specific topics including:

  • "All of society approach" to climate action, spearheaded by the Administrator of the EPA, calling for more targeted effort and consideration by government officials and stakeholders.
  • Innovative ways in which countries from a wide variety of regions are approaching and responding to climate change in areas of water and coastal management, food security and human impacts, hosted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.
  • Nature-based solutions, hosted by U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, such as stopping deforestation and the loss of wetlands, and restoring marine and terrestrial ecosystems.
  • How climate impacts exacerbate security concerns and, as a result, affect military capabilities, heighten geopolitical competition, undermine stability and provoke regional conflicts.

Session 4 – Unleashing Climate Innovation: Highlighted the need for collaboration among government, private and public sector to deploy and improve technologies to market.

Session 5 – The Economic Opportunities of Climate Action: Led by President Biden, this session primarily focused on the workforce and economic opportunities that will be unleashed by ambitious climate action.

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