Earth Day 2021 saw world leaders one after the other appear on screen and announce ambitious targets to cut emissions. Humanity’s deadline is the end of the decade.
Once coal was king — it powered industrial revolutions and made countries rich, but now the fossil fuel has been placed on notice.
But the biggest surprise on the first day of the summit was from the host country.
Biden’s new commitment is to cut US fossil fuel emissions by up to 52% of 2005 levels by 2030. This was from the second-largest CO2 emissions producer after China.
His declaration was a statement that the US was back in the global climate fight, four years after the country withdrew from the Paris agreement.
“The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable. The cost of inaction keeps mounting,” Biden warned.
Forty other leaders through the course of the day also gave short addresses to the gathering.
Ramaphosa told the audience that South Africa had introduced new target ranges that were more ambitious than before.
“Firstly the top of the 2030 range has been reduced by 28% or 174 million metric tonnes, which is a very significant reduction. Second, according to our previous nationally determined contribution, South Africa’s emissions will peak and plateau in 2025 and decline only from 2035,” he said.
“South Africa’s emissions will begin to decline from 2025, effectively shifting our emissions decline 10 years earlier.”
Greenpeace Africa senior political strategist Happy Khambule, however, questioned what the president said about the 2025 emissions peak.
His organisation believes this had already happened in 2017.
“What they are putting forward is not good enough, our emissions already peaked in 2017,” he said, explaining that this had been caused by falling electrical output from increasingly unreliable power stations.
Ramaphosa also told the delegation that there were plans to build capacity to generate more than 17 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030.
This is nearly half of what Eskom now generates.
“It means that South Africa will never build another coal power plant again; the chances of South Africa getting funding, or cheap land for a coal power plant are zero,” said Professor Francois Engelbrecht of the Wits Global Change Institute.