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White House unveils global steps to speed climate transition

Moves are made more urgent by energy market disruptions caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Biden says

Flames appear from the flaring of methane near a well in the Bakken oil field.
Flames appear from the flaring of methane near a well in the Bakken oil field. (Orjan F. Ellingvag/Corbis via Getty Images)

The White House on Friday announced a series of actions intended to help hasten the global transition to renewable energy technologies, a move it said was made more urgent following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

During opening remarks of a virtual meeting of global leaders through the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, President Joe Biden said that his administration was proposing the initiatives to “maximize efficiency and reduce emissions across the energy, transportation and agriculture sectors.”

“We cannot afford to let the critical goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius slip out of our reach, and the science tells us that the window for action is rapidly narrowing,” said Biden. “Glasgow was just a kick-off for a decade of ambition, action and innovation.”

The international climate forum, launched by President Barack Obama in 2009, includes 17 economies representing roughly 80 percent of both global gross domestic product and greenhouse gas emissions.

The initiatives focused on four areas. In order to address methane emissions the U.S. and the European Union called on countries to capture as much methane through mitigation measures as possible and commit to ending routine flaring by no later than 2030. The initiative is part of the wider U.S.- and EU-led Global Methane Pledge launched last fall ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.

The U.S. encouraged countries to provide new technical and financial resources to mitigate methane emissions and will provide $3.5 million in technical assistance. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas with more global warming potential than carbon dioxide in the short term, however the U.N. Environment Programme estimates that nearly half of the oil and gas sector’s emissions can be captured and utilized at no net cost.

Global investment

To bring clean energy technologies to market the Biden administration challenged other countries to reach a collective goal of $90 billion in public investment, a target recommended by the International Energy Agency. The White House said that $21.5 billion authorized through the bipartisan infrastructure law would help achieve this goal.

In order to decarbonize the transportation sector the Biden administration called on countries to adopt its goal that 50 percent of all vehicles sold be zero-emission models by the end of the decade. For shipping, the U.S. and Norway announced they will launch a “Green Shipping Challenge” at the U.N. Climate Change Conference to be held in Egypt this November, which will focus on the goal of full decarbonization of the industry no later than 2050.

The U.S. also plans to launch a “Global Fertilizer Challenge” at this year’s conference with the goal of raising $100 million in new funding to support research and help nations with higher fertilizer usage adopt alternative techniques.

This is the third meeting of forum leaders since Biden took office, and the first since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has disrupted global energy and fertilizer markets. Global leaders said the invasion demonstrates that the transition away from fossil fuels is necessary. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said that countries should not inadvertently increase their dependency on fossil fuels in response to the crisis.

“The argument of putting climate action aside to deal with domestic problems also rings hollow,” said Guterres. “Had we invested earlier and massively in renewable energy, we would not find ourselves once again at the mercy of unstable fossil fuel markets.”  

The announcement came a day after National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials released its findings that the global temperature from January through May this year was the sixth hottest on record, dating back to 1880 and that there is a 99 percent chance 2022 will rank among the 10 warmest years on record. Also on Thursday, analysis from the Rhodium Group found that, without ramped-up action by Congress and the executive branch, it will be “increasingly difficult to envision a pathway to the 2030 target,” referencing Biden’s goal to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent from 2005 levels.

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