President Biden has vowed to slash US greenhouse gas emissions by at least a half by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, a doubling of the country’s previous pledge.

He told delegates at a two-day virtual climate summit involving leaders from 42 countries – including big polluters like China, Russia, and India –  that this would be a “decisive decade” for tackling climate change.

The target is a statement of intent and a return to the US leading by example on global warming after Donald Trump walked away from the Paris climate agreement – Biden promptly re-joined after taking office in January. “All of us and particularly those of us that represent the world’s largest economies, we have to step up,” Biden said.

Canada, Argentina and South Korea all increased their targets. Japan’s new commitment was one of the most eye-catching, raising its pledge from a 26 per cent emissions cut to 46 per cent by 2030. Earlier this week the UK made legally-binding commitment to cut carbon emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 compared to 1990 levels. Biden sees the more sceptical governments of Brazil and Australia as the climate villains, in need of persuading.

China, the world’s biggest polluter, reaffirmed its commitment to move to sustainable energy sources and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. “China looks forward to working with the international community, including the United States,” said President Xi after Biden spoke positively about the progress China had already made.

America’s 50 per cent target is hugely ambitious, but is it realistic?

The pledge would mean drastic changes to American life. Coal – already shunned – will become verboten. Gas-guzzlers will be replaced with electric models.

To make this upheaval politically palatable, Biden said the shift to clean energy will create “millions of good paying union jobs” and that countries that act on the climate crisis will “reap the economic benefits of the clean energy boom that’s coming”.

But with the Senate gridlocked, passing any climate change legislation will be devilishly difficult.

Even so, the organisers of the summit insist the mood music is optimistic. And in one respect, at least, the summit has been a success – the virtual format means the usual jet-setting jamboree has been avoided, making it the lowest-carbon climate conference to date.

Covid no longer biggest killer

Coronavirus was no longer the leading cause of death in England and Wales last month, for the first time since October.

The virus was the third biggest killer in March, accounting for 9 per cent of deaths (4,387 out of a total of 48,551) — behind dementia and heart disease, which both accounted for just over 10 per cent, according to ONS figures.

An interactive ONS map breaking down Covid deaths by postcode shows that more than 4000 of the UK’s 7,200 neighbourhoods recorded no virus fatalities in March.

And according to scientists behind Britain’s biggest Covid symptom-tracking study, an estimated 870 people caught Covid each day last week in England — the lowest number since June. 

The weekly average of Covid deaths is now 24 per day. Professor Karol Sikora, an expert in medicine at the University of Buckingham, says that the (questionable) way in which Covid fatalities are calculated means that the true number could be “significantly” lower still. Official figures show that a quarter of these “Covid” deaths are people who died with the virus, as opposed to from it. 

The PM has shown no sign of budging on his roadmap, but the dwindling death toll is making the “data not dates” mantra look sillier by the day. Regardless, these encouraging figures are evidence that that the virus is still firmly in retreat. 

Tinker, tailor, soldier… influencer

MI5, Britain’s domestic security agency, is joining Instagram in a bid to dispel “Martini-drinking stereotypes” and improve transparency. 

Its boss, Ken McCallum, admitted joining the platform was “a routine step for most organisations, but more interesting when you’re in the business of keeping secrets.” Despite joining social media, McCallum said MI5’s operations will not become “an open book”. Phew.

But does the service actually have a glamorous image that needs shaking off? For one thing, Bond has all the fun because he’s MI6, meaning he gets to jet off and foil international plots in exotic locations. And for every episode of Spooks there’s a John le Carré novel that paints Britain’s spies as grubby, workaday plods. 

Maybe the move to Instagram should be taken at face value – members of a grey organisation wanting to be in the cool crowd and thirsty for a little bit of glamour. Who can blame them?

Mattie Brignal,
News Editor