An online global summit’s mood at its opening on Monday was perhaps best reflected at the sight of U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres clearly beaming after John Kerry, the new U.S. presidential climate envoy, pledged to restore American leadership in the fight against global warming.
Guterres had kicked off the Climate Adaptation Summit 2021 — hosted by the Netherlands to accelerate global aid for dealing with inevitable climate effects — by urging all donor nations and multilateral banks to donate half their climate financing for more adaptation and resilience among developing countries. “Support for adaptation and resilience is a moral, financial, economic and social imperative,” he said.
Kerry, named by President Biden to lead America’s reemergence as a major force in global climate politics, began by expressing “regret” at his nation’s absence under former President Trump, who was skeptical of climate change and withdrew the United States from the 2015 Paris Agreement to lower emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. Biden reversed that decision on his first day in office last week.
In April 2016, Kerry, as U.S. secretary of state, had held a granddaughter in one arm as he signed the agreement on behalf the United States at U.N. headquarters in New York. The Paris accord’s goal is to prevent average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, or 1.5 degrees C. if possible. The world already warmed by about 1 degree, so the choice is between one degree or a half-degree more warming.
Biden signed more than a dozen executive orders, memorandums and proclamations from the Oval Office, notably including moves to rejoin the World Health Organization and the Paris climate treaty. Rejoining the treaty, which does not require approval by the U.S. Congress, takes effect after a 30-day notice period.
“We’re proud to be back. We come back, I want you to know, with humility, for the absence of the last four years, and we’ll do everything in our power to make up for it,” Kerry told the online climate summit of world leaders and proponents of climate action.
“Now, without question, I think everybody understands this, the best adaptation is to treat the crisis as the emergency that it is, and do more to hold the Earth’s temperature increase to the Paris-stated 1.5 degrees,” he said. “I think scientists are more and more landing on the 1.5 as a critical figure.”
The summit culminates work by the Global Commission on Adaptation, which was established by Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and leaders of 22 other nations, and launched at The Hague in 2018 by Guterres’ predecessor, Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary-general from 2007 to 2016. Its mandate was “to accelerate adaptation by elevating the political visibility of adaptation and focusing on concrete solutions.”
Ban said the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated “the power of global partnership and collaboration” in overcoming challenges. “If we can fight this pandemic, we can do this to help hundreds of millions of people to adapt to climate change,” he said. “All of us, all leaders, have to take his opportunity to save humanity.”
⚡️ 'Opening session'https://t.co/QdzqwQGO0R
— CASsummit2021 (@CASsummit2021) January 25, 2021
Scientists warn of inaction
“Business as usual is no longer an option for my country and others,” said Rutte, whose along with his center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy is leading in the polls for a fourth term in a general election to be held in two months. “I hope this summit will set the world on a path towards action to accelerate adaptation and resilience worldwide.”
The two-day online summit, which concludes on Tuesday, also drew opening speeches from leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Han Zheng.
More than 3,000 scientists from 130 nations, including five Nobel laureates, issued a statement that the planet is fast overheating and “already experiencing major disruptions from more intense droughts, fires, heat waves, floods, destructive tropical cyclones and other extreme events.”
“Unless we step up and adapt now,” they wrote, “the results will be increasing poverty, water shortages, agricultural losses and soaring levels of migration with an enormous toll on human life. We must avoid inaction where those who are not rich lose out, and cannot react in the timeframe necessary and without resources to make the required changes.”