World leaders make big climate promises on Earth Day. What are they?

Published 2021-04-22 14:42

Greta Thunberg critical of ‘hypothetical’ targets


The best way to celebrate Earth Day? How about giving the Earth a break.

World leaders committed to doing just that on April 22, although some critics are questioning whether their promises will make a difference.

On Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden convened a two-day virtual international climate summit from the White House in Washington, D.C.

At the meeting, a number of world leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pledged to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, are released into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. They are a root cause of climate change.

The new commitments comes as scientists say fossil fuel use is already increasing the number of droughts, floods, hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters on the planet.

They say humans are running out of time to make a difference.

An aerial view of melting permafrost near Quinhagak, Alaska, on April 12, 2019. Scientists say Alaska has been warming twice as fast as the global average, increasing 4.7 C since 1901. (Image credit: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Why was the U.S. leading the charge?

The U.S. pulled back from global climate efforts when Donald Trump was the country’s president.

When Biden won the U.S. election in November, he vowed to change that.

On Thursday, he promised to cut U.S. fossil fuel emissions by up to 52 per cent by 2030.

He encouraged other world leaders to make similar pledges during the summit.

By the end of Day 1, Biden said he and the other major economic powers had committed to cutting fossil fuel fumes enough to keep the Earth’s climate from warming disastrously. 

However, some were critical that there wasn’t a clear outline for how these targets would be met, questioning whether these commitments would translate to actual action.

What kind of promises did Canada make?

Trudeau set a new Canadian target of lowering emissions 40 to 45 per cent (from 2005 levels) by 2030.

World leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, appear on screen during the virtual Earth Day summit (Image credit: Tom Brenner/Reuters)

He said Canada is “now on track to blow past” its old target of 30 per cent by 2030, a target set by the previous Conservative government in 2015 as part of the Paris Agreement.

"Only bold climate policies lead to bold results," said Trudeau as he listed some of the government's proposed green-friendly policies such as investments in clean energy and a ban on single-use plastics.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole was critical of Trudeau’s commitments, saying the Liberal government has never actually met any of its past climate targets and is making commitments without a plan to achieve them.

“Mr. Trudeau is a prime minister who's an expert on announcements, but he gets zero on delivery. He fails every single time,” O’Toole said.

A recent report from Environment and Climate Change Canada concluded Canada's emissions are headed in the wrong direction.

Canadian Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Thursday the new targets are indeed ambitious, but are also attainable.

What commitments did other countries make?

The summit included world leaders from 40 nations.

Japan, a heavy user of coal, announced its own new emissions reduction target of 46 per cent by 2030.

The United Nations says that a two degree increase in global temperatures will happen without a 25 per cent emissions cut this decade — meaning more extreme weather worldwide. (Image credit: Nardus Engelbrecht/AP Photo)

The European Union announced plans to cut emissions by 55 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030, after having already cut emissions nearly a quarter.

Even more ambitious, the U.K set a new target of a 78 per cent reduction by 2035 from 1990 levels.

China did not announce new emissions targets.

The country recently surpassed the U.S. as the top emitter of greenhouse gases and its emissions are responsible for half the world's growth in carbon output since 2005.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, however, did commit to reducing coal consumption between 2026 and 2030.

Climate activist reacts

In a video posted to Twitter, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg criticized the goals set out by world leaders, saying they were “full of gaps and loopholes.”

She said the targets could be a great start, but they don’t go far enough to address the climate crisis.

“Although we can fool others, and even ourselves, we cannot fool nature. The emissions are still there whether we choose to count them or not,” she said.

With files from The Associated Press, John Paul Tasker/CBC, Aaron Wherry/CBC, and Alexander Panetta/CBC.

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