As leaders set fresh climate goals, Biden pledges US support

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FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020 file photo, the sun rises amid smog during the dry season in Mexico City. Five years after a historic climate deal in Paris, world leaders are again meeting to increase their efforts to fight global warming. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

PARIS – U.S. President-elect Joe Biden pledged Saturday to rejoin the Paris climate accord on the first day of his presidency, as world leaders staged a virtual gathering to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the international pact aimed at curbing global warming.

Heads of state and government from over 70 countries took part in the event — hosted by Britain, France, Italy, Chile and the United Nations — to announce greater efforts in cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming.

The outgoing administration of President Donald Trump, who pulled Washington out of the Paris accord, wasn't represented at the online gathering. But in a written statement sent shortly before it began, Biden made clear the U.S. was waiting on the sidelines to join again and noted that Washington was key to negotiating the 2015 agreement, which has since been ratified by almost all countries around the world.

“The United States will rejoin the Paris Agreement on day one of my presidency,” he said. “I’ll immediately start working with my counterparts around the world to do all that we possibly can, including by convening the leaders of major economies for a climate summit within my first 100 days in office.”

Biden reiterated his campaign pledge that his administration will set a target of cutting U.S. emissions to net zero “no later than 2050.”

Experts say commitments put forward by the international community in the past five years have already improved the long-term outlook on climate change, making the worst-case scenarios less likely by the end of the century. But wildfires in the Amazon, Australia and America, floods in Bangladesh and East Africa, and record temperatures in the Arctic have highlighted the impact an increase of 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times is already having on the planet.

“If we don’t change course, we may be headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of more than 3 degrees (Celsius) this century,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, urging world leaders to declare a “climate emergency.”

The Paris agreement aims to cap global warming at well under 2 C (3.6 F), ideally no more than 1.5 C (2.7 F), by the end of the century. Meeting the temperature target will require a phasing-out of fossil fuels and better protection for the world's carbon-soaking forests, wetlands and oceans.