Biden's remarkable success on climate

April 23, 2021 - By every standard, President Joe Biden's climate change summit was a remarkable success. With great diplomatic dexterity, Biden and climate envoy John Kerry assembled world leaders representing 82% of world carbon emissions, 73% of the world population and 86% of world economic output to commit to bold climate action.

Biden deftly used the occasion to set the US economy on the path of bold decarbonization by 2030. And all of this was accomplished by videoconference, a daily act for schoolchildren and office workers, yet a much-needed breakthrough for a gathering of world leaders.

The summit represents a tipping point. The world's largest economies -- the United States, Canada, the European Union, China, Japan, Korea, India, United Kingdom, Brazil -- are finally aligning around the goal of deep decarbonization, meaning the shift of the energy system from fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) to zero-carbon sources (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass and nuclear).

Cynics might claim that we've been here before -- big political talk about climate action but with little prospect of follow up. Yet such cynicism is not well placed. The stark dangers of a warming planet, coupled with the breakthroughs in low-cost, zero-carbon technologies, are convincing political and business leaders not to be left behind in the great global energy transformation already underway.

It's a powerful signal of this new energy consensus that electric vehicle producer Tesla has a $690 billion market capitalization, more than eight times General Motors' $82 billion market capitalization. Any country that delays decarbonizing will be left with stranded assets and shrinking markets for its exports.

We are still a long way from achieving this goal, but the debates over the objective -- net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, the timing (by around 2050), and even the basic pathways to success -- are largely over.

The key reasons for the new geopolitical consensus are clear. Earth has already warmed dangerously -- by around 1.2° Celsius, or 2.7° Fahrenheit over the past 250 years -- and will continue to warm at around 0.2° C per decade or higher unless the global energy system is decarbonized.

Yet rapid decarbonization is now feasible at low cost thanks to remarkable technological advances in solar and wind power, battery storage, electric vehicles and more. Even better for the economy, the green (low-carbon) economy will produce a lot more jobs in the rising clean energy sectors than will be cut in the declining fossil fuel sectors.

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