Ahead of a virtual weekend summit to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris agreement, over 100 groups on Thursday urged President-elect Joe Biden to commit the United States to its "fair share" of emissions cuts and climate finance, noting the nation's disproportionate contributions to the global crisis.
"The people who voted for a better future are now ready to demand it from your administration," says the joint letter (pdf) to Biden, sent on behalf of millions of people. It follows the release last week of a U.S. Climate Action Network (USCAN) analysis of fair share country contributions with a focus on the United States.
The analysis found the U.S. fair share of global action necessary to limit temperature rise this century to 1.5°C—the more ambitious Paris target—is the equivalent of reducing U.S. emissions 195% by 2030, based on 2005 levels. In other words, slashing domestic greenhouse gas emissions isn't enough—the United States must also help other countries. USCAN calls for domestic reductions of 70% by 2030 along with U.S. financial and technological support to enable even greater cuts in developing nations.
"The climate crisis may be the most unfair thing that ever happened on this Earth: the less you did to cause it, the harder you get hammered," said author and activist Bill McKibben, who co-founded the group 350.org. "These numbers give us a strong sense of what a just and honorable response might look like."
Noting that the United States, "for all our terrible inequality, is an extremely wealthy country," USCAN executive director Keya Chatterjee said in a statement that "we can hardly expect other countries, particularly developing countries straining to lift their people out of poverty, to prioritize emissions reductions, if we haven't already done so. The new administration very much wants to make the U.S. into a climate leader. Climate leaders do their fair shares."
Given President Donald Trump's recent withdrawal from the global climate accord, the groups' letter tells Biden that "we applaud your stated intent for the United States to rejoin the Paris agreement at the earliest possible moment," while also encouraging the next president to go further and fully embrace the fair share demand.
"This commitment to fair shares is already included in the Democratic Party's Platform," the letter notes. "To follow through, this will require bold, equitable, and ambitious emissions reductions and a commitment to support less wealthy countries to do the same, including providing a significant amount of climate finance, far more than we committed to under the Obama administration."
According to Friends of the Earth U.S. president Erich Pica, "For far too long, the United States approach to addressing climate change in both the domestic and international context has ignored or denied our historic contributions to the climate emergency and our greater responsibility to act."
As the letter details:
To date, the United States has contributed more to climate change than any other country in the world. It is also the world's wealthiest country, with much of this wealth being accumulated through activities that have directly or indirectly fueled climate change. Even within the U.S., we see all too well how the devastating impacts of extractive and polluting activities are concentrated in low-income, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities, while the wealth accumulated through these practices is concentrated in the hands of just a few. These are truths that cannot be ignored.
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It is past time for the U.S. to finally act the way a climate leader must —both within its borders and internationally. The United States' capacity to act on the climate crisis and its historical contribution to creating it are so large that even cutting to zero emissions tomorrow would not be action enough. And so now the U.S., beginning with your administration, must do its fair share in addressing this crisis. It is long overdue. It is what's right. And if people from Louisiana to California and from the Philippines to Nigeria are going to have a chance at surviving the existential crisis unfolding before our eyes, it is paramount.
Taking aim at past Republican and Democratic administrations, Corporate Accountability U.S. climate campaign director Sriram Madhusoodanan said that "the U.S. has consistently been a bad faith actor backing Big Polluters instead of people at the U.N. climate talks. It is not enough for the U.S. to simply rejoin the Paris agreement."
"The Biden administration has touted climate action, and it is time for them to walk the walk," Madhusoodanan added. "With its reentry to the Paris agreement, the U.S. must commit to pay what it owes to Global South countries, eliminate emissions, and stop undermining people-first solutions."
Holding Biden to account, the letter points outs that "you yourself acknowledged the people's mandate for urgent action on climate change in your victory speech, and we are here to tell you that transforming how the U.S. shows up and fulfills its obligations to address the climate crisis on the global stage is an essential ingredient in demonstrating climate leadership."
True climate leadership means:
Committing to real and bold emissions reductions at home
Providing climate financing and support to Global South countries
@Transition46, it’s time for the U.S. to do its #ClimateFairShare. More on our demands here: https://t.co/J5UZmHcACN pic.twitter.com/6n4SDrb7Qv
— Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (@UUSC) December 11, 2020
Biden recently appointed John Kerry, the former secretary of state who helped craft the Paris agreement, as his climate envoy. In an interview with NPR earlier this week, Kerry said that in terms of taking action domestically to become a global climate leader, "We will have to do our fair share."
"Yes, it's simple for the United States to rejoin, but it's not so simple for the United States to regain its credibility," Kerry added of the Paris agreement. And I think we have to approach this challenge with some humility and with a very significant effort by the United States to show that we are serious."
Earlier this week, as a new United Nations report warned that despite a brief coronavirus pandemic-related drop in emissions, the Paris goals are still out of reach based on countries' current climate pledges, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called Biden's decision to bring Kerry into his evolving administration "a demonstration that there will be a very strong commitment of the U.S. in relation to climate action next year."