Climate talks will test Biden’s pledge to make global heating a priority

President Joe Biden is doubling down on his reset of his predecessor’s environmental policies by inviting Russian president Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping of China to the first big climate talks of his administration next month aimed at increasing cooperation to fight global heating.

The Leaders Summit on Climate talks, scheduled to be held virtually on 22 and 23 April, are an opportunity for the US to shape, hasten and deepen global efforts to cut climate-wrecking fossil fuel pollution, administration officials told the Associated Press.

According to the White House, 40 invitations went out on Friday to leaders that encompass a range of nations, some already affected badly by climate crisis, others on a spectrum from relatively reformist to ultra-polluters.

“In his invitation, the president urged leaders to use the summit as an opportunity to outline how their countries also will contribute to stronger climate ambition,” the White House said.

Biden’s effort is an arena in which the US can display clear differentiation with the previous Donald Trump administration, which had rejected the 2015 UN Paris climate accords in favor of an America First energy policy that, among other contentious initiatives, rejected improving energy-efficiency standards and promoted domestic fracking to reduce foreign-energy dependence.

The talks are also designed to revive a US-convened forum of the world’s major economies on climate that previous administrations, Republican and Democrat, had allowed to lapse. They will also mark the first time a US leader has attended a major international climate discussions in more than four years.

The summit is also a fulfillment of a campaign pledge and executive order by Biden designed to launch in tandem with an anticipated multi-trillion dollar infrastructure spending package designed both to stimulate the post-Covid US economy and sharply cut emissions of green-house gasses from legacy fuel sources.

As a candidate in the 2020 election, Biden pledged $2tn in investment to help transform the US into a zero-emission economy by 2050 while building clean-energy and technology jobs.

Officials said they hope that by demonstrating US commitment to emissions cuts at home, the US could encourage similar moves abroad, including encouraging governments to reform transportation and power-generating sectors as well as broader consumer economies to meet more ambitious environmental targets

But the talks will test Biden’s pledge to make climate crisis a priority among competing political, economic, policy, pandemic and post-pandemic issues, according to AP.

Led by US climate envoy John Kerry, US officials have reportedly been emphasizing US climate intentions during early one-on-one talks with foreign leaders. Biden reportedly discussed the talks with British prime minister Boris Johnson on Friday, with both leaders agreeing on the need to keep emissions-cutting targets ambitious.

A summary of the conversation provided by the White House said the pair discussed “the importance of developing ambitious climate goals, noting the opportunities provided by the Leaders Summit on Climate and the UK’s G7 presidency.”

But officials also told the AP the US is still deliberating on how far the administration will go in setting more ambitious US emissions targets. The talks, they said, will be livestreamed to encourage other international leaders to use it as a platform to showcase their own countries’ climate-crisis commitments.

However, despite the emphasis on global cooperation, early administration efforts to reshape US relations with China got off to a problematic start last week during high-level talks in Anchorage, Alaska that began with an exchange of insults.

Against that backdrop, the climate talks – coming seven months ahead of November’s UN global climate sessions in Glasgow – will offer a deliberate test of whether, after four years of isolationist and aggressive diplomatic non-compliance, the US still has power to shape global decision-making.

Biden’s invitation list includes leaders of the world’s biggest economies and European blocs. But it is not yet clear how Russia and China, both on the list of invitees, will respond or if they are willing to cooperate with any US-led climate initiative.

While China lags the US in overall economic might, it is the world’s top emitter of climate-damaging pollution, with the US second, India third and Russia at four.

“China is by far the world’s largest emitter. Russia needs to do more to reduce its emissions,” said Nigel Purvis, who worked on climate diplomacy in past Democratic and Republican administrations. “Not including these countries because they aren’t doing enough would be like launching an anti-smoking campaign but not directing it at smokers.”

Brazil’s rightwing president Jair Bolsonaro is also likely to be in the diplomatic crosshairs for thwarting preservation efforts of the Amazon rainforest, a vital global carbon sink.

Among those invited are leaders of countries under the most immediate – and devastating – ecological threat. They include Bangladesh and the Marshall islands, both threatened by rising sea levels.

The invitation list is notable for other reasons, too: King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is invited. But heir apparent Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, subject to a diplomatic freeze out over what US intelligence agencies conclude was his approval of an operation to “capture or kill” US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is left out.

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