It’s a momentous week for action on climate change. On Thursday, the White House is convening 40 world leaders for an Earth Day summit where the United States is expected to announce new commitments to curb its greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Washington Post, the US is considering doubling its previous target, cutting emissions 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. In doing so, the US — the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter — would end up committing to the largest cuts in emissions in the world.
Many other countries are also not sitting idle. Major economies like the United Kingdom, the European Union, and even China have their sights set on zeroing out their greenhouse gas emissions entirely. Others plan to ramp up their ambitions from the tepid goals set in the wake of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The accord aims to limit warming this century to below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, with a more ambitious target of 1.5°C.
It’s been a struggle to get to this point, with decades of stops and false starts just to get countries to agree to limit climate change at all, not to mention the last four years of US backpedaling under Donald Trump. Now, scientists say the world has less than a decade to get on course for meeting the 1.5°C goal. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions worldwide are poised to rise again this year as economies rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Andrew Steer is a leading authority on international climate change policy and has been closely involved in the ebbs and flows of global action for more than a decade. He worked as a special envoy for climate change at the World Bank between 2010 and 2012. And until recently, he led the World Resources Institute (WRI), one of the premier think tanks on climate change and other environmental issues. WRI’s work has been indispensable for my own reporting, from their policy papers on energy to their visualizations to their briefings walking reporters through the intricacies of international climate negotiations.
Steer was recently poached by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to lead the Bezos Earth Fund, one of the world’s largest climate philanthropies, pledging to spend $10 billion by 2030 to address climate change.