Today, April 22, is Earth Day, and 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.
Biden rejoined the Paris climate agreement on his first day in office and has made climate change a key focus of his administration.
It’s expected that the US will unveil an updated carbon pledge that will see its emissions nearly halved by 2030.
Among those attending will be China’s President Xi Jinping.
Despite serious tensions between Washington and Beijing 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 said, “Both countries see the need for action in the 2020s.”
Officials also urged countries perceived as lagging on climate change to be more ambitious.
Australia and Brazil, one said, would have to improve. Their sceptical attitude found favour in the Trump White House but now things have changed.
However, while the US is talking up its ambitions, the proof of change for many observers will be in their new carbon-cutting pledge for 2030, expected to be announced at the summit.
For some in the international community, even the mooted 50% cut in emissions won’t be enough.
“The US should cut at least 55% from 2005 levels by 2030 to inspire others to raise their ambitions,” said Quamrul Chowdhury, from Bangladesh, a climate negotiator for the Least Developed Countries group.
The US pledge will undoubtedly be the headline, whatever its size but there are also expected to be new steps announced by a number of countries.
“The three that I think are most likely to step up at this summit are Canada, Japan and South Korea,” said Helen Mountford of the World Resources Institute. “China would be fantastic, but I wouldn’t expect it at this time.”
This is the first big climate meeting in a critical year that will culminate in a November gathering of around 200 world leaders in Glasgow for the UN climate change summit, COP26.
“We need to have the 40 leaders present here expressing their willingness to reach strong agreement by Glasgow,” said Remy Rioux, a negotiator for France during the Paris talks.
“And for the US to demonstrate that they are back, and that they are back as convincingly and strongly as possible.”