Unless they “get serious” now about global warming, the current generation of leaders will be remembered for failing to protect the Earth against rising temperatures, the prime minister will say.
Joe Biden wants to use the virtual gathering to secure commitments on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, shifting to renewable energy and providing climate finance for developing countries.
Mr Johnson will welcome the summit as an important stepping stone to the UN’s Cop26 climate conference being hosted by the UK in Glasgow in November, as well as the biodiversity summit in Kunming, China, in October.
Also participating in the Earth Day event are leaders including Emmanuel Macron from France – the host of the 2015 Paris summit, which secured commitments to keep warming within 2C of pre-industrial levels – Russia’s Vladimir Putin and president Xi Jinping of China, whose decisions on curbing emissions will play a crucial role in hopes of reining in temperature rises.
Speaking days after he announced a new target of cutting carbon emissions by 78 per cent from 1990 levels by 2035, Mr Johnson will tell his counterparts that they need to commit to equally ambitious goals by the time of the Glasgow summit in order to limit warming to 1.5C.
“The UK has shown that it’s possible to slash emissions while growing the economy, which makes question of reaching net zero not so much technical as political,” Mr Johnson will say.
“If we actually want to stop climate change, then this must be the year in which we get serious about doing so. Because the 2020s will be remembered either as the decade in which world leaders united to turn the tide, or as a failure.
“So let’s come to Kunming in October and Glasgow in November armed with ambitious targets and the plans required to reach them. And let the history books show that it was this generation of leaders that possessed the will to preserve our planet for generations to come.”
As Cop president this year, the UK is leading efforts to secure international targets in line with reaching net zero by the middle of the century. Mr Johnson has promised to set out the UK’s net-zero strategy ahead of Cop26.
The UK government has also committed £11.6bn in international climate finance to support developing countries over the next five years.
More than 120 countries have made net-zero commitments to date, covering 65 per cent of global carbon emissions.