Transatlantic Take

Biden’s Leaders Climate Summit Is a Chance to Drive Ambitious Action

4 min read
Photo credit: Luis A /
Shortly after his inauguration, President Joe Biden announced that, in addition to returning the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement, he would be hosting a Leaders Summit on Climate on April 22—Earth Day.

Shortly after his inauguration, President Joe Biden announced that, in addition to returning the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement, he would be hosting a Leaders Summit on Climate on April 22—Earth Day. This would underscore the urgency and the economic benefits of stronger climate action and to encourage greater multilateral action in advance of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in November in Glasgow.  

Biden’s summit aims to include the leaders of the 17 countries in the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the EU, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These countries are responsible for 80 percent of global emissions and GDP. The summit will also gather a selection of countries that are demonstrating strong climate leadership, especially vulnerable to climate impacts, or taking innovative steps towards developing a net-zero economy. Some business and civil society leaders have also been invited.

The stated themes of the summit are:

  • Galvanizing efforts by the world’s major economies to reduce emissions during this critical decade to keep a limit to warming of 1.5 degree Celsius within reach.
  • Mobilizing public and private sector finance to drive the net-zero transition and to help vulnerable countries cope with climate impacts. 
  • The economic benefits of climate action, with a strong emphasis on job creation, and the importance of ensuring all communities and workers benefit from the transition to a new clean-energy economy.
  • Spurring transformational technologies that can help reduce emissions and adapt to climate change, while also creating enormous new economic opportunities and building the industries of the future.
  • Showcasing subnational and non-state actors that are committed to green recovery and an equitable vision for limiting warming to 1.5 degree Celsius, and are working closely with national governments to advance ambition and resilience.
  • Discussing opportunities to strengthen capacity to protect lives and livelihoods from the impacts of climate change, address the global security challenges posed by climate change and the impact on readiness, and address the role of nature-based solutions in achieving net zero by 2050 goals.

In his first major spending proposal to redress the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the U.S. economy and in his most recent infrastructure proposal, Biden has emphasized ways to encourage enhanced climate ambitions that go hand in hand with creating good paying jobs and advancing innovative technologies. For example, the infrastructure proposal includes $100 billion for upgrading the U.S. electrical grid, $174 billion to advance the transition to electric vehicles, and $35 billion for research in emissions-reducing and climate-resilient technologies. 

“Build back better”—Biden’s mantra—is also the order of the day in the EU, where very good existing clean energy and climate-change legislation is being ramped up and improved to increase overall ambitions, while ensuring that research and innovation and new and better jobs are created in their wake, and to spur new developments to meet those ambitious goals.

In its resilience and recovery efforts to address the economic impact of the pandemic, the EU has emphasized the importance of ensuring climate adjustment and improvements. The proportion of its new multiannual budget that will have to be allocated to climate-friendly actions has been increased to 30 percent.

As the EU and the United States have had successes in developing new clean-energy technologies and can show that these have helped to create new and diverse jobs, these developments should help to encourage the leaders of countries not yet convinced about the potential that clean-energy and climate-friendly innovations can have for sustainable and positive impacts on their economies.

Showing global leadership in setting ambitious regulatory and legislative goals will help drive innovation and providing the right incentives now will encourage industry and business—not to mention citizens—to take action and adopt climate-friendly behavior. It is also important to include subnational leaders in these efforts and discussions, and each of the country leaders will have a moral (if not legal) obligation to ensure that the right messages are passed on throughout their national systems

At the other end of the spectrum, greater regional and multilateral climate cooperation can flourish with the aid and assistance of the regional development banks as well as the financial and industrial private sector. This can foster regional cooperation, better interconnections with better digital controls for greater energy efficiency, better integration of renewable energy, and improved demand-side flexibility. The messages that will emanate from the summit will need to be furthered in existing regional coordination mechanisms.

Trying to get politicians to look to the longer term will be a major challenge, but the impetus that many will have from the younger generations among their voters should help to convince them to take the right actions. If nothing else, the coronavirus pandemic has been an important global lesson in how short-term actions have long-term consequences and how vulnerable the world can be when it does not take into consideration the long-term implications of actions. The clear message everywhere must be that “prevention is better than cure”—and much cheaper.