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The Daily 202: Biden’s virtual climate summit tests relations with Russia, China

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with Mariana Alfaro

Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletter! How many world leaders at President Biden's big virtual Earth Day summit will forget to unmute? Tell your friends to sign up here.

Watch our livestream of the climate summit here and read our liveblog for updates.

President Biden’s virtual climate summit, which kicked off today, will be the most serious test yet of his theory America can cooperate with hostile global rivals like China and Russia to tackle global warming while at odds on a wide range of other major issues.

So far, the “Earth Day” gamble looks pretty good — if you set aside the testy rhetoric from Beijing and Russia and assume none of their serious disputes with Washington will intrude as leaders discuss a crisis threatening to disrupt every aspect of human life. 

My colleague Brady Dennis reports Biden comes to the summit with new U.S. goals:

Biden “will commit the United States to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions as much as 52 percent by the end of this decade, a pledge that would require fast and far-reaching changes to American life, from how people power their homes to the cars they drive.

"The highly anticipated announcement roughly doubles a target set by President Barack Obama in 2015 as part of the Paris climate accord, by vowing that the nation will reduce its emissions between 50 and 52 percent by 2030 compared with 2005 levels. Biden plans to formalize the new goal in a submission to the United Nations, the White House said.”

That’ll need action from Congress, where Republicans generally take a skeptical line on the climate crisis, notably on the question of whether other polluters will follow the U.S. lead.

There are reasons for fresh urgency.

My colleague Miriam Berger reports:

Global carbon emissions are expected to surge this year as parts of the world begin to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. They are on track to reach the second largest annual rise on record, according to a new projection by the International Energy Agency.”

And while the United States is the second-largest carbon emitter, the world’s number one, China, “has yet to spell out the near-term actions it plans to take to begin altering its trajectory of greenhouse gas pollution,” Brady notes.

Biden’s two-day summit will test international resolve to grapple with the crisis.

Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia are slated to be among the several dozen world leaders (including Pope Francis) who will take part in the two-day gathering, which comes as Biden nears the symbolic “100-day” mark of his presidency.

Biden acted quickly upon taking office Jan. 20 to restore the U.S. role on climate — rejoining the nonbinding 2015 Paris agreement that Donald Trump quit four years ago and naming former secretary of state John F. Kerry as special climate envoy.

Russia and China have already unfurled their own emissions-cutting plans. Details are a little sparse, and the announcements have come with thinly veiled shots at U.S. efforts to resume a global leadership role on the crisis.

Xi will deliver an “important” speech to the summit, China’s foreign ministry said yesterday. Days earlier, Kerry visited Shanghai and joined his Chinese counterpart in vowing to fight climate changewith the seriousness and urgency that it demands.” 

But just before Kerry’s visit, China’s Global Times newspaper warned “[w]ithout China's cooperation, any climate ambitions of the Biden administration would be out of the question” and bluntly said Washington “lacks both the moral basis and the practical power” to pressure Beijing.

“The U.S. chose to come and go as it likes with regard to the Paris agreement,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said last week ahead of the summit. “Its return is by no means a glorious comeback but rather the student playing truant getting back to class.”

Xi said in December that China will cut its “carbon intensity” emissions measured against gross domestic product  by 65 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

My colleagues Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson reported last week:

“China has pledged in the past to make 2030 its peak year for greenhouse gas emissions and in recent months also promised to reach net zero emissions by 2060. But how the world’s biggest emitter plans to make that happen remains unclear.

Xi’s virtual attendance at the summit comes amid sharp disputes with Biden on a range of issues, from Beijing’s crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, to its newly aggressive approach to Taiwan, to what Washington describes as China’s genocidal policies against the Uyghur minority.

Meanwhile, U.S. relations with Russia under Biden have been strained, to say the least.

The president has labeled Putin a “killer” and recently hit Moscow with a range of sanctions, including diplomatic expulsions, in retaliation for alleged interference in the 2020 elections and the SolarWinds cyberattack.

U.S. officials have expressed profound concerns about the deteriorating health of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny while warning of “consequences” if he dies, and criticized Russia’s ominous troop buildup along the Ukraine border. (Moscow appears to have ordered a partial pullback, though some forces remain.)

Still, the two sides appear to be forging something like a truce when it comes to climate.

My colleague Isabelle Khurshudyan reports

In his annual address to the Russian government on Wednesday, Putin set a goal of reducing Russia’s greenhouse emissions below European Union levels in the next 30 years. He also said he will increase fines for industrial polluters.

"‘If you profited from nature, clean up after yourself,’ Putin said, referencing massive toxic spills in the Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk regions of Siberia last year.”

The Kremlin has been careful to couch Putin’s attendance at the summit where he plans to make a speech less as accepting an American invitation, or acknowledging U.S. leadership, than as acting in purely Russian interests.

This is a multilateral event devoted to climate and the ecology and [this issue] is also a top priority for our country, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said this week. That’s why Putin “made a decision to speak at it,” Peskov added.

As for the Russian president himself, he used his annual state-of-the-nation speech to complain it has become “customary to pick on Russia on any possible occasion” in some unspecified countries.

“We really don't want to burn bridges,” he said. “But if someone perceives our intentions as indifference or weakness and is ready to burn or even blow up bridges, then Russia's response will be asymmetrical, swift and harsh.

What’s happening now

Climate activist Greta Thunberg is currently testifying before the House Oversight Committee about climate change and fossil fuels. When Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) asked Thunberg what would it mean if U.S. lawmakers don’t repeal fossil fuel subsidies, Thunberg said “it would send a message that you're not really taking it seriously, that you're talking very much, but not really taking action." Ahead of her testimony, Thunberg released a video saying commitments presented during Biden’s climate summit “could be a great start, if it wasn’t for the fact that they are full of gaps and loopholes.” 

Health officials are leaning toward resuming the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine — but with a warning. “The position would be similar to one taken by Europe’s drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency, which said this week the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should carry a warning but placed no restrictions on its use. The European agency said the shot’s benefits continue to outweigh the risks,” Laurie McGinley and Lena Sun report

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • Investigation suppressed by Trump administration reveals obstacles to hurricane aid for Puerto Rico,” by Tracy Jan and Lisa Rein: “The Trump administration put up bureaucratic obstacles that stalled approximately $20 billion in hurricane relief for Puerto Rico and then obstructed an investigation into the holdup, according to an inspector general report obtained by The Washington Post. Congress requested the investigation into the delays to recovery aid for Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. ... The 46-page report presents an incomplete picture of the political influence of the Trump White House on delaying disaster relief for the struggling island. Still, Inspector General Rae Oliver Davis … found unprecedented procedural hurdles set by the White House budget office … The Post had previously reported that Trump repeatedly told aides that disaster relief allocated for Puerto Rico must be closely monitored because he believed the territory’s government is corrupt.
  • Humanity’s greatest ally against climate change is the Earth itself,” by Sarah Kaplan: “Ecosystems like California’s kelp forests absorb about half of the greenhouse gases humans emit, studies show. Without them, warming would be even worse. Nature shields us from the worst consequences of our own actions, forgiving the sins we refuse to repent. But it cannot endure endless abuse.”

… and beyond

  • The Postal Service is running a ‘covert operations program’ that monitors Americans’ social media posts,” by Yahoo News’s Jana Winter: “The details of the surveillance effort, known as iCOP, or Internet Covert Operations Program, have not previously been made public. The work involves having analysts trawl through social media sites to look for what the document describes as ‘inflammatory’ postings and then sharing that information across government agencies. ‘Analysts with the [USPS] Inspection Service Internet Covert Operations Program monitored significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically on March 20, 2021,’ says the March 16 government bulletin, marked as ‘law enforcement sensitive’ and distributed through the Department of Homeland Security’s fusion centers.”
  • Pentagon investigated suspected Russian directed-energy attacks on U.S. troops,” by Politico’s Betsy Woodruff Swan, Andrew Desiderio, Lara Seligman and Erin Banco: “The Defense Department had been investigating the incidents, including those targeting its personnel around the world, since last year, according to four former national security officials directly involved in the probe. ... The briefings included information about injuries sustained by U.S. troops in Syria, the people said. The investigation includes one incident in Syria in the fall of 2020 in which several troops developed flu-like symptoms."

More on the climate summit

Biden called climate change the “existential crisis of our time” as he opened the summit. 
  • After unveiling his emissions goal, Biden said the climate crisis will require a much larger international effort, Anne Gearan reports.
  • “The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable. And the cost of inaction keeps mounting,” Biden said in his opening remarks. “We have to move. We have to move quickly,” he added. Vice President Harris, meanwhile, invoked wildfires in her home state of California as an example of climate change’s real impact. “It is imperative that we act quickly and together,” she said.
  • Here's the summit's agenda.
Xi reiterated China’s pledge to “peak” emissions by 2030. 
  • Xi was the first national leader to speak at the summit this morning, Adam Taylor notes. He, however, “stood out from some of his peers by not making a new pledge and reiterating only Beijing’s previously stated targets at the summit: that China would ‘strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.’”
  • “The targets, first announced by Chinese officials last year, are ambitious, but they put the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter behind many other developed countries that have pledged to reduce emissions much sooner. [Xi] emphasized that China’s dramatic development means achieving carbon neutrality in such a short time frame is still difficult.”
Japan announced a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 46 percent by 2030 compared with 2013 levels. 
  • Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga made the announcement hours before the start of the summit. “Japan is now taking a giant step toward solving global challenges,” Suga said, per Taylor. Japan had previously been aiming for a 26 percent reduction in these emissions, a target that was criticized as far too modest for the world’s third-biggest economy and fifth-largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
  • Canada also pledged to up its game. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a target of reducing Canada's 2005 emission levels by 40 percent to 45 percent by 2030, John Wagner reports.
Jair Bolsonaro promised Brazil would go carbon neutral by 2050 and end illegal deforestation by 2030.
  • “Bolsonaro, a vocal ally of former president Donald Trump who has previously threatened to pull Brazil out of the Paris climate accords, offered a more conciliatory tone” at the summit, Taylor reports. Bolsonaro also said that his government had made a “commitment to eliminate illegal deforestation in Brazil by 2030 with full and prompt enforcement of the Brazilian forest code.”
South Africa’s president, meanwhile, said his country is already (slightly) ahead of the game. 
  • “Cyril Ramaphosa said the country’s greenhouse gas emissions would peak in 2025, 10 years earlier than previously targeted, reducing projected emissions by a total of 174 million metric tons,” Colby Itkowitz and Steven Mufson report. “However, he said, while the country’s peak would be a decade earlier, emissions would not start to decline until 2035.”
  • Ramaphosa also called on developed countries to help developing ones. “Important that aid on climate change should be provided separately and should not be a part of conventional development assistance. When it is given in the form of loan financing, the debt burden of developing countries is worsened,” he said.
The U.N. chief says “we are at the verge of the abyss.” 
  • “U.N. Secretary General António Guterres implored global leaders to summon more urgency in their efforts to slow climate change,” Brady Dennis reports. The world, he said, is “racing toward the threshold of catastrophe” unless it moves more quickly to slow the Earth’s warming.
European leaders credited Biden for “returning the U.S. to the front rank of the fight against climate change.” 
  • “I want to leave you with the thought that we can build back better from this pandemic by building back greener,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, borrowing from one of Biden’s key phrases for post-pandemic recovery.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, made it clear she is happy that Biden is in the White House. “I’m delighted to see that the United States is back to work together with us in climate politics, because there can be no doubt about the world needing your contribution,” she said.
Climate change could cut the world economy by $23 trillion in 2050, according to insurance giant Swiss Re. 
  • “The effects of climate change can be expected to shave 11 percent to 14 percent off global economic output by 2050 compared with growth levels without climate change, according to a report from Swiss Re,” the Times reports. “Some Asian nations could have one-third less wealth than would otherwise be the case, the company said.”
  • “If countries succeed at holding average global temperature increases to less than two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels — the goal set by the 2015 Paris accord, an agreement among nations to fight climate change — economic losses by midcentury would be marginal, according to Swiss Re. The company found that most countries’ economies would be no more than 5 percent smaller than would otherwise be the case.”

Quote of the day

“This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative, a moment of peril but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities,” Biden said in his opening summit remarks. “Time is short, but I believe we can do this.”

The pandemic

Burned out by the pandemic, 3 in 10 health-care workers are considering leaving the profession. 
  • “According to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, roughly 3 in 10 health-care workers have weighed leaving their profession. More than half are burned out. And about 6 in 10 say stress from the pandemic has harmed their mental health,” William Wan reports.
  • “In wrenching interviews, nurses, doctors, technicians — and even administrative staff and dental hygienists who haven’t directly treated covid-19 patients — explained the impulse to quit and the emotional wreckage the pandemic has left in their lives. It’s not just the danger they’ve endured, they say. Many talked about the betrayal and hypocrisy they feel from the public they have sacrificed so much to save — their clapping and hero-worship one day, then refusal to wear masks and take basic precautions the next, even if it would spare health workers the trauma of losing yet another patient.”
  • “'Most of us got into this to save lives. But when death is blowing around you like a tornado and you can’t make a dent in any of it, it makes you question whether you’re making any difference,' said Megan Brunson, a night-shift nurse in Dallas."
India announced the most daily new infections in the history of the pandemic, with nearly 315,000. 
  • “The single-day case count surpasses a previous record set by the United States, when more than 313,000 infections were reported on Jan. 8, according to data compiled by The Post,” Erin Cunningham reports. “The massive outbreak in India has been blamed on more contagious variants of the virus, as well as an early relaxation of restrictions and a slow-moving vaccination campaign.”
Michigan’s spring covid-19 surge is close to previous pandemic high. 
  • “The state’s seven-day case average of newly reported cases remained above 7,000 for nearly two weeks,” the WSJ reports. “Hospitalizations and daily deaths have also been increasing, but those rises aren’t nearly as steep as the ones seen during the previous surge. Both are lagging indicators that can trail behind new infections by weeks. Still, some hospitals have seen an inundation of patients. 
  • Vikas Parekh, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, said the rising caseload is due to several factors including reopenings. … Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky has said vaccinations could take two to six weeks to have an effect and a more immediate way to stop the spread is to use methods such as testing, contact tracing and to 'shut things down.'" 
California’s case rate is now the lowest in the continental United States. 
  • “The state’s latest seven-day rate of new cases — 40.3 per 100,000 people — is dramatically lower than the nationwide rate of 135.3 and edged only by Hawaii, 39.1, over the same time period, according to data from the CDC,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
About a third of service members have gotten the vaccine. 
  • “The vast majority of those doses have gone to service members in phase 1, including those working in clinics and hospitals, as first responders, deploying to or redeploying from overseas and those with pre-existing conditions,” the Military Times reports. “There is also the factor of vaccine refusal, which the Pentagon is not tracking centrally. The Marine Corps has said that nearly 40 percent of its troops have opted not to get vaccinated. ... Vaccination rates have been higher overseas than stateside, with officials pegging the rate at 10-to-15 percent higher.”

Hot on the left

“Capitol Police officer allegedly told units to only monitor for 'anti-Trump' protesters on January 6,” CNN’s Zachary Cohen reports. “Rep. Zoe Lofgren described the radio broadcast, the existence of which was not previously known, during a House Administration Committee hearing on security failures around the January 6 attack. In that transmission, the officer said: ‘Attention all units on the field, we're not looking for any pro-Trump in the crowd. We're only looking for any anti pro-Trump who want to start a fight,’ according to Lofgren, a California Democrat.” 

Hot on the right

Amanda Chase, a prominent Republican candidate for Virginia governor, said the guilty verdict against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin this week made her “sick” and that jurors didn’t acquit because they feared a violent backlash. “Friends, today’s verdict makes me sick,” Chase, a state senator, told a gathering in King William County shortly after a jury found Chauvin guilty. “I am so concerned about our law enforcement right now quitting. And you should be, too,” Laura Vozzella reports. Despite criticism from state and national Democrats, Chase, a self-described “Trump in heels, stood by her remarks.

Biden’s education spending, visualized

Biden has proposed — or is expected to propose — a half dozen education programs that would constitute the largest federal investment in education in at least a half century, Laura Meckler and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel report.

Today in Washington

Biden is participating in the climate summit. At 3:45 p.m., he and Harris will receive a coronavirus briefing. 

In closing

Seth Meyers said the Chauvin verdict is not the end of the story: 

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