US President Joe Biden opened a global climate summit with a pledge to cut at least in half the climate-wrecking coal and petroleum fumes that the United States pumps out, a commitment he hopes will spur China and other big polluters to speed up efforts of their own.
The commitment is to cut US fossil fuel emissions up to 52 percent in less than 10 years.
It will require by far the most ambitious climate effort ever undertaken by Washington, nearly doubling the reductions that the administration of President Barack Obama had committed to in the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord.
It will also be another indication of the return of the US to global climate efforts after four years of withdrawal under President Donald Trump.
Biden had previously returned to the Paris accord, from which Trump had withdrawn, just hours after taking office in January.
The White House has said the effort, which envisions a prosperous, clean energy US that moves away from its reliance on coal and petroleum, will also drive jobs as the economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.
“The United States is not waiting, the costs of delay are too great, and our nation is resolved to act now,” the Biden administration said in a statement.
“Climate change poses an existential threat, but responding to this threat offers an opportunity to support good-paying, union jobs, strengthen America’s working communities, protect public health, and advance environmental justice.”
The pledge will build on “leadership from mayors, county executives, governors, tribal leaders, businesses, faith groups, cultural institutions, health care organisations, investors, and communities who have worked together tirelessly to ensure sustained progress in reducing pollution in the United States”, the administration said.
The new urgency comes as scientists say that climate change caused by coal power plants, car engines and other fossil fuel use is already worsening droughts, floods, hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters and that humans are running out of time to stave off most catastrophic extremes of global warming.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris opened the Earth Day summit Thursday from the White House East Room before world leaders, including the heads of China, Russia, India, Gulf oil states, European and Asian allies and island and coastal nations already struggling against the effects of climate change. Pope Francis will also take part.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the summit will play out as a climate telethon-style livestream, limiting opportunities for spontaneous interaction and negotiation.