What to expect at US President Biden’s climate summit for world leaders

What to expect at US President Biden’s climate summit for world leaders

This Earth Day, US President Joe Biden will host 40 world leaders, including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, at a climate summit. What’s likely to happen at the virtual event and what will it mean for Australia?

The Leaders’ Summit on Climate will underscore the global urgency and the economic benefits of stronger climate action.

While Biden has promised to restore American global leadership on climate change, how he handles Australia at the April 22 and 23 event will be critical, according to historian and Research Fellow at the EU Centre of Excellence Dr Emma Shortis.

“Biden and his climate envoy, John Kerry, have said in no uncertain terms that Australia needs to take substantial action to tackle climate change,” she said.   

“In response, the Australian government has changed its rhetoric but not its policies. 

“The Morrison Government will go to the summit assuming it can wait out any pressure from the Biden administration, hiding behind complicated but ineffective policy pronouncements and assuring itself that the consequences of US pressure will be minimal. 

“Whether the Biden administration and the European Union continue to tolerate this inaction, it will have significant consequences, both for the outcome of this summit and for the approach world leaders take to COP26 in Glasgow in November.”  


Welcoming the US back

For the EU, this summit will be about welcoming the US back into the fold of the Paris Agreement, post Trump administration, according to Dr Chloe Ward.

“While Donald Trump trashed US ambitions on climate, the EU has been positioning itself as a global leader on climate for some time,” Ward, a historian and Research Officer at the EU Centre of Excellence, said.

“Its coronavirus recovery plans are wrapped up with its goal to become a ‘carbon-neutral continent’ by 2050. 

“We are likely to see Europe soon increase its 2030 carbon emissions targets to 55% of 1990 levels, and its plans for a ‘carbon border adjustment mechanism' could have serious implications for its trading partners, including Australia. 

Under the Trump administration, the US had withdrawn from the Paris Agreement. Under a Biden administration, the US hopes to be leaders on climate change once more. Under the Trump administration, the US had withdrawn from the Paris Agreement. Under a Biden administration, the US hopes to be leaders on climate change once more.

“With the EU’s plans well underway, and the US renewing its climate commitments, all eyes will be on China, and whether it will up its ambitions for a green transition.

“The EU has been trying to keep political criticism of the regime separate from its trading relationship with China. But this looks increasingly difficult, and these tensions are very likely to spill over into the climate talks.” 


Act now or risk losing control

Scientists have highlighted the need to limit global warming to 1.5C in order to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.  

A key goal of both the Leaders’ Summit and COP26 will be to unite efforts to keep that 1.5C goal within reach.

Interim Director of the Urban Futures Enabling Capability Platform at RMIT University Professor Lauren Rickards said action needed to happen now or we risked losing the ability to manage climate change.

“Climate change is undermining our ability to manage and mitigate it,” she said.    

“There is a real risk that the disasters and chaos we’re seeing – fires, floods, cyclones, even the emergence of coronavirus – will push the ability to manage climate change beyond our reach unless we act quickly.    

“Unless we dismantle the incentives and injustices that enable climate change and the destruction of our environment, we will also undercut our capacity to manage climate change.    

“More than just minimising harm though, we need to regenerate the many landscapes already scarred and depleted of carbon by urban-driven processes, to restore the ecosystems we rely on and the climate we are vulnerable to.   

“We now need to resource such efforts properly, learn from them, and build their insights into our institutions. There is a lot of hard, inspiring work happening on this including the RMIT-led Future of Food project and Climate Change Exchange.  

“Society does not have time to tackle these problems one fragmented project at a time.  

“We have to build on each other’s work, and together we can develop the capabilities we need faster than climate change erodes them.”


Story: Chanel Koeleman and Amelia Harris


  • Sustainability
  • Society
  • Environment

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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.