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Biden to Proclaim U.S. Climate Ambitions at White House Summit

Biden is expected to announce a 50 percent reduction in U.S. emissions by 2030. Will that encourage other countries to do the same?

By Colm Quinn, the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry listens to President Joe Biden speak on tackling climate change at the White House in Washington on Jan. 27.
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry listens to President Joe Biden speak on tackling climate change at the White House in Washington on Jan. 27. Mandel Ngan / AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The White House hosts virtual climate summit, more than 1,400 people arrested at protest rallies across Russia, and U.S.-Iran talks advance in Vienna.

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Biden’s Climate Reset

U.S. President Joe Biden convenes 40 world leaders—including 17 of the biggest carbon-emitting countries—in a virtual summit aimed at aligning global ambitions on greenhouse gas reduction and relaunching the United States as a leader in the fight against climate change.

Biden is expected to begin proceedings with a bombshell announcement: committing the United States to a 50 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030. The target would almost double one set by President Barack Obama under the 2015 Paris climate accord, although how Biden plans to get there is not yet known.

The cuts are in line with those recommended by U.N. experts in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and prevent the catastrophic effects associated with any further increase. On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the world was “on the verge of the abyss,” with 2020 going down in history as one of the three hottest years ever recorded.

The impending White House announcement follows a similar one made on Wednesday by the European Union, the third largest carbon emitter. The bloc has adopted new targets to reduce carbon emissions by 55 percent on 1990 levels, with the legal muscle to enforce the goals expected to come in June.

Xi’s goals. While the second and third highest emitters are making their ambitious goals, the White House hopes the dramatic cuts convince China, the No. 1 carbon emitter, to follow suit. China has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2060, but plans to hit peak emissions by 2030—risking further environmental damage between now and then.

That Xi Jinping will attend Thursday’s virtual summit is a good sign, Foreign Policy’s James Palmer writes in the weekly China Brief, if only to “at least allow some leeway for Chinese officials to reach out to their U.S. counterparts.”

Cooperation vs. competition. While U.S. policy has focused on Chinese cooperation on climate change, exemplified by climate envoy John Kerry’s Shanghai trip this month, a more competitive focus may lead to better results, Lauri Myllyvirta writes in Foreign Policy. “The best thing the United States can do to encourage China along is to go big on climate action,” Myllyvirta writes. By “providing a clean alternative to China’s fossil fuel-heavy Belt and Road Initiative in developing countries,” the United States can provide an incentive to China to compete on the same terms, while also coming good on its own climate pledges.


What We’re Following Today

Russian unrest. Russian police arrested more than 1,400 protesters at rallies across the country organized by allies of the imprisoned dissident Alexey Navalny. The protests appeared to be smaller in scale than others staged over the past few months, Reuters reported, a disappointment to organizers who hoped that overwhelming numbers would force authorities to allow independent doctors to assess Navalny’s health.

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not mention Navalny in his state address but warned the West against any provocations, even as he said he did not want to “burn bridges.” “But if someone mistakes our good intentions for indifference or weakness and intends to burn down or even blow up these bridges, they should know that Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, swift and harsh,” Putin said.

Pakistan hotel bombed. At least four people were killed and a dozen more injured after a car bomb exploded in the parking lot of a luxury hotel in the Pakistani city of Quetta on Wednesday. Chinese Ambassador Nong Rong had been booked into the hotel at the time but was not on site when the bombing occurred. The Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack, declaring it a suicide bombing.

U.S.-Iran talks. The United States is open to relieving sanctions on Iran’s central bank and a number of key economic sectors, officials told the Wall Street Journal, as all sides concluded five days of talks in Vienna. One serious point of contention remains surrounding the Trump administration’s designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, a label the Biden administration is loath to lift. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has signaled cautious optimism over the indirect U.S. talks before they resume next week. “In some steps, we found them serious,” he said. “In some steps, they speak equivocally. Now we should see.”

South Korea dismisses sex slave case. A South Korean court has dismissed a lawsuit against Japan brought by a group of women forced into sexual slavery during World War II. In January, a judge ruled in favor of a different group of victims and had ordered Japan to pay compensation. The judge in Wednesday’s case upheld Japan’s state immunity as one of the plaintiffs vowed to take the case to an international court. The case of South Korea’s euphemistically described “comfort women” has been a source of tension between the two countries for decades; Japan considers the matter closed after it issued an official apology and set up a $9.3 million victims fund in 2015.


Keep an Eye On

A Belt and Road competitor. The European Union and India plan to create their own infrastructure alliance in a direct challenge to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The plan would see the two powers work together on projects within their states as well as in Asia and Africa. “The EU and its allies have a common interest here in presenting an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative, rather than allowing Chinese investment to dominate,” one EU diplomat told the Financial Times. Terms of the deal are not yet finalized but should become clearer before the deal is unveiled at a May 8 summit.

Canada’s Huawei case. The extradition case of Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive arrested in Canada on behalf of U.S. authorities, has been delayed by three months, in a win for the defense. Meng’s lawyers had argued for more time after additional documents had become available that her defense team may enter as evidence. The documents allegedly show that HSBC bank was aware of Huawei’s dealings in Iran and that a company unit had not contravened sanctions by doing business there.

Russia’s space future. Russia is planning to launch its own space station in 2030 as it plans to leave the International Space Station (ISS) alliance it has been a part of since 1998. Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, said negotiations would now begin with NASA partners to hand over responsibility for the Russian segment of the ISS. The move to leave the ISS comes after Russia and China recently signed a memorandum to pursue a joint base on the moon or within its orbit.


Odds and Ends

The Italian “job.” An Italian hospital employee is being investigated by authorities for allegedly skipping work, with full pay, for the past 15 years. Police say the man, a civil servant, pocketed roughly $650,000 through the no-work scheme, or roughly $43,000 per year. According to Italian press reports, the man had threatened a hospital director who wanted to expose his absence as far back as 2005, although the director soon retired. The Italian government has been on a mission to crack down on public sector absenteeism since it tightened laws against the practice in 2016.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn