Joe Biden can’t save the planet from the climate crisis – at least not alone

The US may be the highest producer of greenhouse gases per capita, but collaboration around the world is key to turning the tide on the climate emergency

Andrea Venzon,Colombe Cahen-Salvador
Saturday 05 December 2020 14:15
Joe Biden announces John Kerry for climate cabinet role

Lately, it seems like the future of the planet and the hope to stop the climate crisis hinges on two  Georgia US Senate races in January that could tip the balance of Congress towards Joe Biden and the Democrats .  

However, the preconception that the climate emergency can be tackled successfully simply by the US rejoining the Paris Agreement and implementing Biden’s ambitious climate plan is highly misguided. 

CO2 reached record levels despite the global lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The amount of action to cut emissions is far from what is needed to avoid the worst impacts of the climate emergency.

While the importance of the new US administration engaging and abiding by international climate standards cannot be underestimated, and the consequences of its four-year disregard of international treaties cannot be overestimated, the planet will not be saved by Biden. Granted, the US is the highest producer of greenhouse gases per capita, but alone it cannot turn the tide on the climate crisis. 

That’s partly because the current treaties in place are not ambitious enough. Take the Paris Agreement targets that are the bare minimum: most experts agree that it will not be enough to prevent the global average temperature from rising 1.5C. “Countries need to double and triple their 2030 reduction commitments to be aligned with the Paris target,” said Sir Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 

Yet, in the last year, governments around the world have prioritised the fight against the virus, and – intentionally or not – abandoned several of their commitments to the climate. In a turn of events, the Climate Transparency Report pointed out that India is the only G20 country on track to meet its emissions targets.

Beyond the need to set more radical and ambitious targets that are actually met, the uncomfortable truth is that people of the world need to stop looking to one country or leader to solve the climate crisis. The climate crisis is the perfect example that our lives are interconnected across the world, and that collective and coordinated radical actions are needed. Even India's nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, said it: “Climate change must be fought not in silos, but in an integrated, comprehensive and holistic way.” 

However, so far the truth has been a radically different one. Take the example of Cop25 in 2019: world leaders were expected to agree on the fundamental and pivotal “Article 6” of the Paris agreement, namely rules for carbon markets and other forms of international cooperation. However, no agreement on the matter was reached, and those key talks were pushed to Cop26, back then scheduled to take place in 2020. 

Even the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, said that at Cop25: “The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis.” Cop26 did not happen this year as the Covid-19 pandemic made it difficult to meet in person, and world leaders could apparently not figure out how to meet on Zoom to stop the climate crisis.

While governments are notoriously slow in cooperating, time is of essence: people from all over the world can and must take the lead. The good news is that there are currently many inspiring initiatives around the world of people coming together to stop the climate emergency. There is hope: from climate strikes by Fridays For Future or educational platforms such as Earthrise Studio, to Green December by Now!, a month in which thousands of activists from all across the globe take individual coordinated actions to counter the climate crisis and showcase that collaboration leads to better results.

The people of the world have shown multiple times that they are ready to take action, beyond cultural differences, borders, and political interests. World leaders, including the new US administration, should follow their lead and start collaborating across borders to bring back climate on top of the world agenda, and stop the climate crisis once and for all. 

Andrea Venzon and Colombe Cahen-Salvador are co-founders of Now!, a global movement pushing for us all to work as one to solve the biggest challenges of our time. Find out more about Green December here:

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