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Expand chart
Data: SSP/Global Carbon Project; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The odds of calamitous climate events, from collapsing polar ice sheets and the ensuing sharp rises in sea levels to deadly heat waves, increases dramatically if the world exceeds the Paris Climate Agreement's temperature targets.

Why it matters: In order to have a decent chance of meeting the agreement's most ambitious temperature target — holding warming to 1.5 °C above preindustrial levels — greenhouse gas emissions need to be sharply reduced before 2030.

The big picture: With the world hurtling toward potentially catastrophic levels of warming, a Herculean effort involving a slew of clean energy technologies is needed to pivot to a different emissions path.

How it works: If the world waits until the 2030s to bend the emissions curve downward, the pace of cuts required to meet the agreement's temperature targets would likely be too expensive, and may be technologically impossible.

What they're saying: John Kerry, Biden's climate envoy, told reporters Saturday that committing to reach net-zero emissions in 2050 is insufficient.

  • "Many people are focusing on 2050 net this, and 2060 net that. That’s good, and we’re happy to have people do it, but not to the exclusion of being super-focused on this decade," Kerry said in Seoul.
  • "If we don’t do what we need to do between 2020 and 2030, those other things become impossible."

Go deeper

U.S. and China agree to take joint climate action

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry waves as he arrives at the Elysee Presidential Palace on March 10, 2021 in Paris. Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

Despite an increasingly tense relationship, the U.S. and China agreed Saturday to work together to tackle global climate change, including by "raising ambition" for emissions cuts during the 2020s — a key goal of the Biden administration.

Why it matters: The joint communique released Saturday evening commits the world's two largest emitters of greenhouse gases to work together to keep the most ambitious temperature target contained in the Paris Climate Agreement viable by potentially taking additional emissions cuts prior to 2030.

The U.S. credibility chasm on climate change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The biggest hurdle for President Biden in winning new emissions reduction commitments at this week's White House summit is America's on-again, off-again history of climate change efforts.

Why it matters: The global community is off course to meet the temperature targets contained in the Paris Climate Agreement. The White House wants the summit Thursday and Friday to begin to change that.

Major satellite program launches to hunt for methane, carbon "super-emitters"

Map of part of the Permian Basin, showing methane emission hotspots in red. (Carbon Mapper)

A new era in monitoring compliance of environmental regulations is quickly approaching, signaled in part by plans announced Thursday to deploy a network of satellites that can pinpoint sources of of methane and carbon dioxide emissions.

Why it matters: The new nonprofit, known as Carbon Mapper, aims to launch its first satellite in 2023 that can detect methane super-emitters and track carbon emissions. If successful, it could transform the way policymakers regulate greenhouse gas emissions and also generate a wealth of data for public use.