One of the dominant themes that tied together the Leaders Summit on Climate on Thursday was a sense of relief that world leaders could once again count on the United States, which hosted the event, for climate action.
In recent months, the US — the world’s largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases — rejoined the Paris agreement and recommitted to climate action. At the summit, US President Joe Biden nearly doubled his country’s previous emissions reductions pledge, with a bold aim to cut emissions by 50% by 2030, a significant pledge in the global race to net zero emissions.
But the virtual event was also a sober reminder of the scale of the climate crisis. Dozens of world leaders queued up their video streams to describe how worsening natural disasters, floods, and droughts endanger global development goals. They warned that existing climate financing was inadequate and the current pace of economic transformation lagged far behind scientific recommendations.
At a parallel event on Thursday, Greta Thunberg railed against ongoing climate inaction.
"It is the year 2021. The fact we are still having this discussion and, even more, that we are still supporting fossil fuels directly or indirectly using taxpayer money is a disgrace." —@GretaThunbergpic.twitter.com/273JYbDCB1— Oversight Committee (@OversightDems) April 22, 2021
Leaders attending the climate summit seemed to recognize that the status quo is no longer viable and vowed to take bolder climate action in the lead up to the UN’s climate conference, known as COP26, in Glasgow in November.
“The Leaders Summit achieved its aim of jumpstarting climate action in this critical year,” Manish Bapna, Interim President and CEO, World Resources Institute, said in a statement. “Some larger countries came forward with substantive emissions reduction commitments, as well as other announcements that will help speed the shift to a zero-carbon economy."
“The Summit sends a clear signal that the US is firmly back in the game and serious about taking on the global climate crisis,” he added. “For this, the Biden administration deserves high marks.”
Here are 16 of the best quotes from the day, in order of appearance, about the scale of the climate crisis and how it can be confronted.
1. Kamala Harris, US Vice President
“As a global community, it is imperative that we act quickly and together to confront this crisis. And this will require innovation and collaboration around the world. It will require the use of renewable energy and new technologies. And it will give each of our nations the opportunity to build healthier communities and stronger economies.”
2. Joe Biden, US President
“The countries that take decisive action now to create the industries of the future will be the ones that reap the economic benefits of the clean energy boom that’s coming.”
3. Anthony Blinken, US Secretary of State
“It would be a mistake to see the climate only through the prism of threats. As we take concrete actions to reduce emissions and avoid the impacts of climate change, we have an opportunity.”
4. António Guterres, UN Secretary-General
“We need a green planet but the world is on red alert. We are at the verge of the abyss. We must make sure the next step is in the right direction. Leaders everywhere must take action. First by building a global coalition for net zero emissions by 2050 in every country, every region, every city, every company, and every industry.”
5. Xi Jinping, President of China
“We must be committed to harmony between man and nature. All things that grow live in harmony and benefit form the nourishment of nature. Mother Nature has nourished us and we must treat nature as our root. Respect it, protect it, and follow its laws.”
6. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India
“Humanity is battling a global pandemic right now, and this event is a timely reminder that the grave threat of climate change has not disappeared.”
7. Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the UK
“If we’re going to tackle climate change, we have to deal with the disaster of habitat loss and species loss across our planet.”
8. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
“This is a herculean task, because this is nothing short of complete transformation of the way we do business.”
9. Vladimir Putin, President of Russia
“CO2 can stay in the air for hundreds of years so it’s not enough to tackle new emissions. It’s also important to take up the task of absorbing the CO2 that has accumulated in the atmosphere.”
10. Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa
“We have to adhere to the principle of differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities. Poor countries have historically contributed the least to global emissions, but developing countries often suffer the most from the devastating effects of climate change.
11. Sergio Mattarella, President of Italy
“We need to reverse course and do it soon. The fiscal plans we are designing to help us recover from COVID-19 offer a unique opportunity. We can transform our economies and pursue a greener and more inclusive growth model.”
12. David Kabua, President of the Marshall Islands
“For millions of years our people have navigated these islands to build private communities and cultures. Today, we are navigating through the storm of climate change and we’re determined to do our part. We know what a safe harbor looks like.”
13. Alberto Fernández, President of Argentina
“I hope that out of this summit we have a new pact. This is a time to dream. Nobody can work alone. We have to work together, we have to have social justice, financial justice, and environmental justice.”
14. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission
“The Paris agreement is humanity’s life insurance. At the COP26 in Glasgow, we must show that we have all understood this and that we are ready for more climate action because we are getting dangerously close to 1.5 degrees of warming. Science tells us that it’s not too late yet but we must hurry.”
15. Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda
“The harmful effects of climate change are growing and the cost of mitigation and recovery is being counted in human lives and livelihoods. The economic situation of our countries was already grave before the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now dire. Particularly for tourism-dependent nations. We are literally teetering on the edge of despair.”
16. Ali Bongo Ondimba, President of Gabon
“We are on course for disaster. It is our collective responsibility to act immediately and at a global scale to limit the climate crisis. There is no time to lose.”