Earth Day Summit must catalyze global climate action

Published: 21st April 2021

On the eve of the Earth Day Summit, Oxfam is calling for President Biden and world leaders attending the virtual summit to urgently ramp up ambition to tackle the climate crisis.

“To make up for years of inaction, the US must take urgent and inclusive action that transforms systems and institutions to address the climate crisis and work for marginalized communities,” said Abby Maxman, President and CEO of Oxfam America. “Climate change and inequality are two sides of the same coin and the Earth Day Summit must only be the starting point for tackling these crises together."

The poorest half of the world’s population —3.1 billion people— is responsible for just a small fraction of dangerous carbon emissions. Yet, it is the poorest and most vulnerable people —those with fewest resources and who have done the least to cause the problem— who are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. The richest 10 percent of people in the world, on the other hand, produced over half of global emissions. 

The needs of the most vulnerable must be at the heart of both the Earth Day Summit and the Biden administration’s climate agenda. As the biggest historical emitter, the US in particular has a responsibility to reduce its emissions urgently and ambitiously, and help the poorest respond and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

“US climate action must be grounded in global justice and be a moral statement as much as it is a political and scientific one,” said Maxman. “The US owes it to the world’s most vulnerable to put forward a climate target that contributes its fair share of global emissions reductions and is ambitious as possible. Anything less will be seen as avoiding our global responsibilities to support those who are already suffering from the devastating impacts of climate change.” 

The Paris Agreement, now five years old, was an historic turning point in tackling the global climate crisis. Countries agreed to set voluntary emissions reductions targets with an aim to limit global warming to 1.5°C while also increasing the ability of countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change. However, most countries are not taking enough action to meet their climate goals.

“Bringing the world’s largest emitters and vulnerable countries together at the Earth Day Summit, President Biden must move with urgency to surpass previous commitments while catalyzing other leaders to do the same,” said Maxman. “Ahead of the COP26 in Glasgow, the US and other rich countries must deliver stronger commitments, including significant reductions in global emissions, and scaling up financial support to vulnerable countries that are not only the least responsible for the climate crisis, but also the least equipped to cope with it.”

As scientists warn of a race against time to limit temperature rises and adapt to an already changing climate, hard lessons must be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. The world has witnessed the consequences of inaction in hundreds of thousands of lives lost, and millions pushed into precarity and hunger. 

“World leaders must not ignore the lessons of the pandemic; they must put tackling the twin climate and inequality crises at the heart of the COVID-19 recovery,” concluded Maxman. “This is the time for bigger, bolder action that will deliver a more resilient and dignified future where everyone can thrive —not just survive.”

Notes to editors

The richest 10 percent accounted for over half (52 percent) of the emissions added to the atmosphere between 1990 and 2015. The richest one percent were responsible for 15 percent of emissions during this time – more than all the citizens of the EU and more than twice that of the poorest half of humanity (7 percent). Download Oxfam’s report, ‘Confronting Carbon Inequality,’ for more information.

The combined climate plans submitted by countries account to a dismal 1 percent emissions reduction, which is way off track from the targeted 45 percent reduction needed to limit global warming below 1.5 degrees, and to avoid disastrous impacts on vulnerable communities.

Contact information

Laura Rusu in the US | | +1 (202) 459-3739
Annie Thériault in Peru | | +51 936 307 990

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