The Global Climate Summit, to be held on 22-23 April 2021, will be hosted by President Joe Biden, who will convene the leaders of the 40 nations including those demonstrating strong climate leadership, vulnerable to global warming, or following ground-breaking approaches to a net-zero economy and the leaders of the big energy-consuming nations China, India, and Russia. This is significant as this shows that the US has been finally waking up to global warming and the challenges that the shifting to renewable energy as the first climate action faces amidst intense great power geopolitics.
Biden’s climate action is a much-needed step to restore American leadership on the global issues that require immediate action given the US denial mode on climate change. Despite the US ratification of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the majority of Americans continue to ignore the urgency of climate action. Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Accord further reinforced America’s pervasive ignorance. But, Biden has made climate change a priority and on the very first day in office, he announced that the US would re-join the Paris Climate Accord. A few days later, on January 27, Biden decided to convene a leaders’ summit to galvanise major economies’ efforts to address the climate crisis.
There have been growing concerns by scientists and environmentalists on the urgency of holding global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius to prevent the worst consequences of climate change, which the Leaders’ Virtual Climate Summit is aiming to catalyse. The climate summit aims to highlight the benefits of increased climate action and its effect on the good-paying employment generation, promote emerging technologies, and prepare vulnerable countries to face climate change challenges. The soaring energy demand continues to be a major cause of the rising mercury level. There is almost unanimity among scientists and environmentalists that industrialisation, development, and consumerism have propelled the energy demand which is heavily derived from fossil fuels, mainly coal and petroleum. For electricity generation, the world is still heavily dependent on coal. As a result, the world has warmed over the last century, the rate of global warming is alarming. Moving to renewable energy is one of the most effective processes for eliminating dependence on hydrocarbons.
Many countries have put a strong emphasis on green technologies and increasing the share of renewable energy in their overall energy mix. One of the first steps towards reducing global warming is to switch away from fossil fuels, which will be the subject of the global climate summit meeting.
To avert the looming catastrophic consequences of climate change is to speed up the transition to renewable forms of energy, mainly solar and wind energy. However, the path to renewable energy mired with the challenges of unravelling great power geopolitics. This is evident in the production, supply, and marketing of rare earth materials, and renewable energy technology. China has risen to be a dominant player in rare earth materials. Earlier this month, President Biden convened a summit-level meeting of the Quad nations -the US, India, Japan, and Australia-, with the primary concern of the Indo-Pacific stability and security, and ensuring a free, open, stable, and secure Indo-Pacific amidst the growing
Chinese military assertiveness in the region. However, the two major issues—the COVID-19 vaccine project and renewable energy—were divergent from Quad’s main agenda. Quad leaders discussed renewable energy and the need of fixing the global supply chain of rare earth materials. Rare earth materials are critical components used in solar panels and wind turbines and a number of these are effectively monopolised by China. Quad members agreed to reduce their reliance on China for critical materials. With its vast reserves of rare earth materials, Australia’s role will be critical in any effort to improve the global supply chain for rare earth materials. Before the Quad Summit, in February 2021, Biden signed an executive order to end China’s control of the rare earth supply chain. Many countries around the world are trying to shift to renewable energy and the contest for the materials used in the solar panel and wind turbines, their marketing, and access to technology are going to be the key in the coming days.
Amidst the revival of the US-China strategic rivalry and the concerns surrounding the security in the Indo-Pacific due to the aggressive military posture of China, the success of the climate summit is going to be a challenge for Biden’s climate action. The US, China, India, and Russia are top energy-consuming nations and their cooperation on any climate action is important. Biden’s biggest challenge is to engage China. After a diplomatic standoff in Alaska, where the two world powers had a diplomatic row, President Biden is hoping to engage China on the issue of climate change by pursuing Beijing to give up the coal-fired power station and support the funding of clean technologies in the developing countries.
Biden‘s special envoy for the US on climate John Kerry has been trying to woo the countries including China for the success of the summit, as Beijing’s cooperation is important.
The climate summit is likely to emphasise the urgency and economic benefits – of stronger climate action. It is going to be a significant step toward the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this November. However, the complications of engaging the competing geopolitical interests of the great powers that are at odds with the US and to agreeing on a common ground would be the key challenge for the climate summit. Following the Quad, this is the first major international move by President Biden to engage the world, which includes Russia and China, with which the US has been at odds and relations have deteriorated, is a much-needed and welcome step towards tackling global warming.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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