Climate-change leaders and campaigners worldwide have welcomed US President Joe Biden’s move to rejoin the 2015 Paris Agreement but said Washington must now lead by example.
In one of his first acts as president, Biden issued an executive order on Wednesday to bring the United States, the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, back into the global treaty committing nearly 200 countries to halt rising temperatures quickly enough to avoid disastrous climate change.
Washington formally left the Paris accord last year but its role as a heavyweight in global climate negotiations had already stalled with the 2016 election of Donald Trump.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they get a standing ovation just by entering the room,” former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said, referring to a US return to global climate talks.
“That doesn’t mean that they will have a standing ovation forever. They have to prove that they are really determined to make the changes that are necessary.”
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomed the US return to the Paris accord but added: “There is a very long way to go.
“The climate crisis continues to worsen and time is running out to limit temperature rise to 1.5C and build more climate-resilient societies that help to protect the most vulnerable.”
Climate diplomats said they want to see an ambitious US commitment to cut emissions this decade and a diplomatic push to convince others to follow suit.
Top of the list would be China, the world’s biggest polluter, which plans to become carbon neutral by 2060 but has yet to unveil a short-term plan to reduce emissions.
During the Trump administration, climate became another source of friction between the world’s two biggest economies, and experts said it was unlikely that their relationship could immediately return to normal.
Biden has said he wants to put the United States on track to net zero emissions by 2050 but has yet to detail what regulatory tools he intends to use to achieve that goal
In June, the EU will propose a carbon levy on imports of certain polluting goods to protect European industry from cheaper competitors in countries with weak climate policies.
Biden pledged in his election campaign to do the same, through “carbon adjustment fees or quotas” at the US border.
“This is a very important tool in the hands of the EU and the US administration to stimulate global climate action,” Simone Tagliapietra, research fellow at Brussels-based think tank Bruegel, said.
Frans Timmermans, the EU climate policy chief, said he would team up with John Kerry, Biden’s international climate envoy, “to convince ever more countries that ambitious climate action is in their best interest”.