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Climate Change

Biden, Xi and Putin push differences aside for climate summit

World's 40 top emitters will meet Thursday in prelude to COP26

U.S. President Joe Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Chinese President Xi Jinping will put differences aside for a summit on climate change on Thursday. (Source photos by Reuters and Xinhua/Kyodo)

TOKYO -- Escalating tensions with the U.S. will not stop Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin from joining Joe Biden to address rising global temperatures later Thursday, when leaders from 40 countries that emit 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions convene for a virtual climate summit.

The U.S. president will host the meeting on Earth Day, after a month of rhetorical and diplomatic escalation with China and Russia. Prime ministers Narendra Modi of India and Yoshihide Suga of Japan will also attend, rounding out the world's top five emitters of carbon dioxide.

The U.S. State Department has billed the summit as a check-in on Paris Agreement targets, "designed to increase the chance for meaningful outcomes on global climate action at COP26" -- the November climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

To "raise ambition" on tackling climate change, Biden is expected to announce a higher target for U.S. emissions reduction, pegged at around a 50% decrease from 2005 levels by 2030, doubling the Obama-era goal, according to various U.S. media. The announcement will be a key opportunity for the U.S. to walk its climate talk, delayed by Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

"Adopting such a target would afford the U.S. some leeway with partners who take issue with the U.S. trying to influence others without it in place," according to the Eurasia Group.

Beijing will not be a passive participant in the meeting as it has its own agenda and road map in pursuing climate goals, wrote the Global Times, a newspaper affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party. Positive public opinion for the climate summit encouraged Xi to accept Biden's invitation.

As recently as Tuesday, Xi had issued sharp words seemingly directed at the U.S. "We must not let the rules set by one or a few countries be imposed on others," he told the Boao Forum for Asia, an annual international affairs conference.

Countries should refrain from "bossing others around or meddling in others' internal affairs," Xi added. Beijing has bristled from U.S. sanctions imposed last month on Chinese officials for their involvement in human rights abuses against the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.

Russia, similarly, was slapped with sanctions on 32 officials and entities last week for attempts to meddle with the 2020 U.S. election, including the hacking of SolarWinds, an IT government contractor. Ten U.S. diplomats were expelled from Russia in retaliation. Despite this, Biden has sought a meeting with Putin this summer, and the Kremlin confirmed Putin's attendance at the Thursday climate summit.

Petrostate Russia has lagged on climate action, ranking 73rd on the MIT Technology Review's Green Future Index, a ranking of the climate policies of 76 advanced economies. Russia's score was brought down by heavy dependence on oil and gas in its energy plan, and the lack of comprehensive policy to combat climate change.

No new climate pronouncement is expected from Putin on Thursday. Beijing unveiled last month new targets to decarbonize as part of its five-year economic plan, in line with Xi's pledge that China's carbon intensity will peak by 2030 and hit neutrality by 2060.

The climate leaders' summit may provide impetus for the Asia Pacific's economic powerhouses to pledge more.

Ahead of the meeting, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday announced a $417 million investment in carbon capture and storage and regional hydrogen hubs. Morrison's government has been criticized for hesitating to act on climate change, particularly on curbing Australia's coal industry.

Japan, meanwhile, has not withdrawn public funding for overseas coal power plants, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in's "Green New Deal" has not set annual emissions reduction targets.

"U.S. foreign investment support, economic aid, and trading relations will play a major role in incentivizing nations to align behind the US in the climate effort and will largely be used to solidify a coalition of the willing," wrote the Eurasia Group.

John Kerry, Biden's climate envoy, hinted at such an arrangement to help India, the third biggest emitter, to reach its renewable power goal of 450 gigawatts by 2030, about five times the current level.

"It's going to be very tough, and we're going to work with India in a partnership to help make it happen and bring finance to the table," Kerry told reporters in Seoul last week.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has not committed to a net zero emissions deadline, although India's rise as an alternate destination to China holds potential as a model for sustainable manufacturing.

A statement from Modi's office emphasized aligning climate action "with inclusive and resilient economic development, while respecting national circumstances and sustainable development priorities" at the meeting.

Beijing could do more to accelerate its path to net zero by 2060, according to S&P Global Ratings.

"China's climate ambitions are being held back by its efforts to achieve supply-chain security in strategic sectors, including energy and technology," wrote Shaun Roache, Asia-Pacific chief economist at S&P Global Ratings.

Additional reporting by CK Tan in Shanghai and Kiran Sharma in New Delhi

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