President Biden said Thursday that he would launch an international climate finance plan to help underwrite the transition to a decarbonized global economy as he presided over a virtual summit of world leaders and called combating climate change “a moral imperative.”

As Biden watched from the East Room of the White House, a parade of heads of government appeared virtually, many of them making new pledges to cut emissions and thanking him for taking a leadership role on the issue.

Participants in the summit include Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, among many others. The second and final day of the summit is Friday.

Here’s what to know:

Leaders Summit on Climate: Live stream | Agenda

1:51 a.m.
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Biden taps ocean scientist Rick Spinrad to run NOAA

President Biden has picked Rick Spinrad, an oceanographer with decades of science and policy experience, to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the government’s leading agency for weather, climate and ocean science.

The White House announced Spinrad’s selection along with several additional climate and environmental nominees, including Tracy Stone-Manning, a senior adviser for the National Wildlife Federation tapped to lead the Interior Department’s Bureau for Land Management.

Spinrad, a professor of oceanography at Oregon State University, served as chief scientist at NOAA under President Barack Obama and before that led the agency’s research arm and ocean service. He also held ocean leadership positions in the Navy.

Named to lead the agency on Earth Day, Spinrad has been a champion of funding research to advance climate change, a top priority of the Biden White House.

12:22 a.m.
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Biden spells out U.S. climate goal, urges other world leaders to go big

In one of the most surreal summit meetings ever, President Biden on Thursday hosted more than 40 world leaders in a bid to restore the United States’ damaged diplomatic reputation and to rally nations around the globe to make deeper cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

With Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and special presidential envoy for climate John F. Kerry seated around a horseshoe-shaped table in the East Room of the White House, the faces of presidents and prime ministers flashed by on a large screen, one by one putting forth their own limited plans for meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord.

Biden kicked off the meeting promising to cut U.S. emissions to half of their 2005 levels by the end of the decade. Several other world leaders also pledged to speed up cuts to their own emissions, restore forests, phase out coal plants, and put people to work building wind turbines and solar panels. And many leaders beseeched the world to act more urgently — and find more money — to help nations already grappling with existential threats from rising seas and other impacts.

11:28 p.m.
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A few virtual hiccups, abundant global relief as Biden puts the U.S. back in the game on climate efforts

An ambitious agenda, complicated and nuanced subject matter, a U.S. president given to unscripted blurts and 40 world leaders, including some with beefs against the United States, at an open mic. All on the equivalent of a giant Zoom call. What could go wrong?

As it happened, not much, despite the oddity of President Biden’s task: reestablishing the country as a reliable global leader on climate change at a marquee global summit conducted via pandemic-mandated video remote.

A few participants took the opportunity to tweak Washington as an inconsistent advocate for action. Others puffed up their nation’s past contributions or pleaded a special case that their smaller, poorer nations should be held to a different standard.

But the overriding sentiment from the global leaders was one of relief and receptivity to having the United States back in the fold after four years of President Donald Trump. Biden collected plaudits for recommitting the United States to focus on the crisis of a warming planet and reversing the policies of his predecessor.

11:01 p.m.
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Analysis: How to understand the numbers of climate change

Over the years, I’ve found that there is a pretty widespread lack of familiarity with how climate change actually works and what contributes to it. So I decided it was worth putting together something of a primer on the subject, centered on how it is measured.

The natural place to begin is by explaining how the warming process works.

If you live in a house in a cold-weather climate, you are probably aware that your attic is insulated. That’s to keep heat in your house and prevent it from escaping into the outside air. The Earth is not similarly insulated, so heat often radiates off the planet’s surface and into space.

Sometimes, though, that heat radiates into the atmosphere, where it is absorbed by one of the countless gas molecules floating around up there, a layer of protection that has an insulating effect. Some of those molecules, excited (literally) by the absorbed energy, then release the energy back out. Sometimes it’s released up toward space. Sometimes it strikes another molecule. And sometimes it heads back toward Earth.

10:03 p.m.
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Senate unanimously confirms Deanne Criswell as FEMA administrator, the first woman to lead the agency

The Senate unanimously confirmed Deanne Criswell as the new administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Thursday. Criswell is the first woman to lead the agency, and she takes the helm at a critical time, with climate change intensifying the pace and severity of natural disasters.

Criswell, formerly New York City’s emergency management commissioner, was confirmed by unanimous consent shortly after the first day of Biden’s climate summit wrapped up, a fitting cap to a day spent discussing environmental crises and the challenges ahead.

The vote came three months into Biden’s term, underscoring the number of high-level administration positions yet to be filled after a slow start to the process that has recently made up ground.

FEMA is responsible for helping states respond to natural disasters. But in recent months, it has also set up mass coronavirus vaccination sites and has helped care for migrant teens and children arriving at the southern border.

At her hearing last month, Criswell said FEMA will play a crucial role in helping Americans face climate disasters, like last year’s record-breaking hurricane season and the recent run of devastating wildfires in the West.

“As FEMA responds to the covid-19 pandemic, it must also support communities in preparing for future challenges, in adapting to a changing world,” Criswell said.

9:00 p.m.
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Biden climate adviser McCarthy: 'We’re not at all disappointed’

Biden’s top domestic climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, hailed the start of the climate summit as a success, even as only a handful of other countries joined the United States on Thursday with new pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The expectation today was that the United States would put a strong nationally determined contribution on the table so that we would have an ability to gather people together again and say, ‘The United States is back,’” McCarthy said, speaking in front of a pair of electric vehicle charging stations at Union Station in Washington with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “That’s what we did.”

“We’re not at all disappointed,” she added, emphasizing that the White House event this week is just a prelude to a United Nations climate conference in Scotland this fall. “We got the leaders to come together, even if it was on Zoom. We actually had a lot of countries that stepped up to the plate. We expect a lot more.”

To kick off Thursday’s summit, Biden committed the United States to cutting its climate-warming emissions by as much as 52 percent by the end of this decade. Japan and Canada also ratcheted up their commitments, while other countries, such as China, only reiterated previously stated targets.

McCarthy also defended the administration’s decision not to set a specific deadline for ending sales of new gasoline-powered cars or achieving net-zero emissions from the transportation sector.

“We’re not making any promises,” McCarthy said, adding that “we have a whole lot of ways” to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in half from 2005 levels by 2030 without setting a specific goal for the transportation sector.

Acknowledging that the transportation sector is the nation’s biggest contributor to climate change, Buttigieg said, “I can’t think of a better way to mark this Earth Day than by discussing the future of electric vehicles.”

8:38 p.m.
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Al Gore predicts China will ‘overachieve’ its pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2060

Former vice president Al Gore said Xi Jinping’s statements at the climate summit Thursday represented progress and a positive step for the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter.

In a Washington Post Live interview, Gore applauded the Chinese president for saying that his country would curb its construction of coal-fired power plants, a leading source of carbon dioxide in China. But, Gore said, “the language needs specificity.”

China announced last year that it would reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060, and Xi reiterated that pledge Thursday.

Gore said China has “a history of planning their work and then working their plan.” The former vice president predicted that the country will “overachieve” on its goal, which would be crucial in the global battle against climate change.

In the interview, Gore did not note that China stood apart from some other countries by not using the summit as a platform to announce new, more ambitious pledges.

Broadly, he called the summit “heartening and important” and said that “we are seeing the whole world crossing the political tipping point on climate right now, right this second.”

Gore praised Biden’s approach to the climate crisis and said it is part of the “strongest start in these first 100 days of any president” since President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

7:07 p.m.
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Transportation Department proposes letting states set their own tailpipe emission rules

The Transportation Department announced Thursday that it will withdraw its part of a Trump administration rule blocking states from setting their own tailpipe standards, which could help pave the way for a broader climate deal with the nation’s automakers.

The proposed rule, which will be subject to 30 days of public comment once it is published in the Federal Register, will no longer bar individual states such as California from establishing their own greenhouse gas emissions standards and zero-emissions vehicle mandates. Early next week the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to reverse a related Trump-era policy by moving to restore the Clean Air Act waiver the agency gave California in 2009.

The administration’s actions will give the liberal state more leverage in discussions between the auto industry and federal and state officials over national mileage and greenhouse gas emission standards for cars and SUVs. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have signed onto California’s tailpipe emission standards: Collectively they represent nearly 40 percent of the U.S. auto market.

6:36 p.m.
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Kerry says private sector will ensure no future president undoes Biden’s work on climate change

John F. Kerry said a future president won’t be able to undo the strides the Biden administration makes on climate change because the private sector is also invested.

“No politician in the future is going to undo this, because all over the world, trillions of dollars, trillions of yen, trillions of euros are going to be heading into this new marketplace,” Kerry said.

Kerry pointed to Tesla and other automakers that are committed to manufacturing only electric cars in the near future as an example of how industries are taking the lead before any government policy is put in place.

“Because the world as a whole is moving in this direction, because these companies have made this critical long-term strategic marketing judgment — and that is the way the markets are moving — no politician, no matter how demagogic or how potent and capable they are, is going to be able to change what that market is doing because it will have moved,” he said.

6:17 p.m.
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Kerry takes jab at Trump for pulling out of the Paris accord ‘without any scientific evidence’

Special presidential envoy for climate John F. Kerry on April 22 said he was pleased with the progress on climate issues since President Biden was sworn in. (The Washington Post)

Former secretary of state John F. Kerry, who serves as Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate, took a jab at former president Donald Trump for having pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord as Kerry addressed reporters Thursday amid Biden’s climate summit.

Kerry recalled the signing by nearly 200 parties of the Paris agreement to limit global warming during his time as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state before reminding reporters of the United States’ exit during Trump’s tenure.

The former president decided to pull out,” Kerry said. “He’s the only president in the entire world, the only chief of state in the entire world, who, without any scientific evidence, decided to pull out of the Paris agreement.”

Kerry also said he was pleased with the progress that has been made on climate issues since Biden was sworn in on Jan. 20.

“On January 19th, we were nowhere,” he said. “We were in deficit with respect to our efforts, and because of President Biden’s leadership in calling a summit and putting us on the line to do this, we now have about 55 percent of global GDP committed to levels of reductions that keep faith with holding the Earth’s temperature at 1.5 degrees. That is a big chunk of difference.”

6:07 p.m.
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Cutting emissions will trigger transformational changes in U.S. society, analyses say

While Biden administration officials did not specify what sort of emissions cuts would be needed to achieve the U.S. pledge, several analyses suggest that it would trigger a nearly wholesale transformation of American society.

The University of Maryland’s Global Center for Sustainability published a working paper in February that outlined the changes that would be required to cut the nation’s emissions 51 percent by the end of the decade compared with 2005 levels. At that point, the researchers projected, renewable power would account for roughly half of the nation’s electricity — quadruple current levels. Almost no coal plants would be operating unless they captured their carbon pollution. Advances in transportation would account for a quarter of emissions reductions between now and 2030, they estimated, so that more than 65 percent of new cars and SUV sales and 10 percent of new truck sales will be electric. All new buildings would be fully electric, they wrote, and almost all new appliances would run on electricity rather than natural gas.

“For this U.S. economy, this is a fundamental and thorough transformation,” University of Maryland Professor Nathan Hultman, who directs the center and was the report’s lead author, said in a phone interview.

Hultman added that while it would take hundreds of billions of dollars in tax credits and incentives, as well as significant private investment, to achieve the new climate goal, the profound shift is already underway. It will yield significant public health benefits, he added.

“This is the natural acceleration of a trend that we’ve been seeing since the early 2000s,” he said, to an economy “that’s built not on the legacy technologies dating back to the 19th century but on the technologies of this century.”

5:15 p.m.
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Pope Francis urges ‘care for nature so that nature may care for us’

Pope Francis urged participants at President Biden’s virtual climate summit Thursday to be “stewards of nature” during a brief message in which he said the post-pandemic era presents an opportunity to do better by the environment.

“We know that one doesn’t come out of a crisis the same way one entered,” Francis said. “We come out either better or worse. We need to ensure that the environment is cleaner, more pure. It needs to be preserved. We must care for nature so that nature may care for us.”

“I wish you great success during this meeting,” he added.

4:20 p.m.
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Biden says he will launch an international climate finance plan to enable transition to decarbonized global economy

Biden said Thursday that he would launch an international climate finance plan to help underwrite the transition to a decarbonized global economy.

“This plan represents our vision for financing the global climate response in a coordinated way,” he said, opening up a late-morning session at the climate summit. He said money must flow toward finding breakthrough technologies and helping the world’s most vulnerable countries.

A paper released later by the White House said that “international climate finance is an investment in our own security.” It backed a shift toward climate projects by regional development banks and by U.S. government agencies. But others at the session warned that much more needed to be done.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said her department was trying to come up with effective ways to mobilize private investment, while noting the administration’s $1.2 billion contribution to the Green Climate Fund. The overall current pace of public and private investment, she said, has “not achieved anywhere near the scale to green the global economy.”

At the same session, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva made a strong pitch for an international carbon price, starting with a common price among the Group of 20 largest economies.

“Without it, we will not meet our carbon goals,” she said. “A robust price on carbon, together with the phasing out of carbon subsidies, provides a critical market signal to consumers and producers.”

Georgieva said the price should increase from current international levels to $75 a ton by 2030.

3:36 p.m.
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Schumer says Senate will soon seek to reinstate Obama-era methane rules

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday that his chamber will soon take up a measure to reinstate Obama-era rules designed to reduce methane emissions from the nation’s oil and gas industry.

New rules issued last year by the Trump administration effectively rescind the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate methane, the largest component of natural gas. Although it dissipates faster than carbon dioxide, methane is estimated to be at least 25 times and as much as 80 times more potent in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere.

“Methane gets less attention than its big, bad brother carbon dioxide, but in truth methane is like carbon on steroids,” Schumer said during remarks on the Senate floor.

Schumer said the scrapping of the Obama rules by the Trump administration was “an act of pure idiocy.”

“The Senate Democratic majority will soon put a bill on the floor to revert back to the original policy, which should have never been tampered with in the first place,” he said.

Democrats are seeking to take advantage of the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn what it sees as objectionable rules completed in the waning days of an outgoing administration.

Measures advanced under the act are not subject to filibusters, meaning Democrats could overturn the Trump rule with a simple majority in the evenly divided chamber. Most legislations take 60 votes to advance.