Equilibrium & Sustainability

Biden seeks to reassert US leadership on climate

Associated Press/Evan Vucci

President Biden sought to restore the United States’ role as a major global player on climate change with an address Monday at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

“There’s no more time to hang back or sit on the fence or argue amongst ourselves,” Biden said during his remarks. “This is the challenge of our collective lifetimes. The existential threat to human existence as we know it.”

The United Nations summit comes at a critical moment for Biden’s presidency as the White House tries to shepherd an enormous domestic policy bill with climate investments through a Congress with razor-thin Democratic majorities. Biden left Washington last week short of a deal on the legislation, which weakened his hand as he entered the summit. 

During his appearance, Biden tried to convince world leaders that the U.S. had moved on from the policies of the Trump era and could be counted on in the fight against climate change. 

Biden also apologized for the decision by former President Trump to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, acknowledging that it set back global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“I guess I shouldn’t apologize, but I do apologize for the fact the United States in the last administration pulled out of the Paris accords and put us sort of behind the eight ball a little bit,” Biden said as he insisted that the U.S. is committed to doing its part to reduce emissions. 

Biden said the U.S. and other wealthy countries need to assist the rest of the world in tackling climate change and that he’ll make that case to the American people. 

“Those of us who have taken actions a long time ago that caused the problems we have — we have to be ready to step up for everyone from Tanzania to Fiji to make sure that they have the wherewithal,” the president said.

“That’s the next big case that I’m going to have to make at home. They now know there is climate change and they’re ready to step up,” he added. “We’ve got to make sure they know that the United States has an obligation to step up in financing other countries that have not had the opportunity to do as much damage as we have and have an opportunity to get much better.”

Following Biden’s remarks, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had allowed Biden to exceed a time limit because of the importance of having the U.S. at the table. 

“Everybody will understand … the huge importance of the United States in helping the world to take action and show solidarity,” Johnson said. 

The U.S. also released its strategy for achieving its long-term goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. The White House separately plans to ask Congress for $3 billion annually to help vulnerable countries adapt to climate change beginning in fiscal year 2024. 

Biden and the White House have made it clear they see the Glasgow summit as an opportunity to show renewed U.S. leadership after the Trump years. U.S. officials hosted several events on the conference’s first day, including a meeting on the economic case for climate action and another event pertaining to climate science. 

Before arriving in Glasgow, Biden attended a Group of 20 (G-20) summit during which the leaders made a broad statement on reaching net-zero emissions “around 2050.” Some have argued the statement fell short of what is needed and lacked specific commitments. 

Biden blamed China and Russia, which are both members of the G-20, for the shortcomings, saying they had not showed up “in terms of any commitments to deal with climate change.”

“There’s a reason why people should be disappointed in that,” he told reporters. “I found it disappointing, myself.”

Biden has sought to make a sharp pivot from the Trump White House on climate.

Trump rolled back a number of climate regulations in addition to withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris agreement.

On his first day in office, Biden signed an executive order kicking off the process to rejoin the Paris deal. 

He also convened world leaders virtually at an April summit to announce that the U.S. would seek to cut its own emissions 50 to 52 percent by 2030 when compared to 2005 levels — up from the Obama-era commitment of 26 to 28 percent cuts by 2025. 

Still, the rest of the world is taking a somewhat skeptical view of the U.S. on climate change.

Trump remains the de facto leader of the Republican Party and is considering a second run for president.

Biden also faces questions about how much he can actually accomplish domestically given differences in his own party on climate change. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has torpedoed at least one major proposal in the Biden economic and climate package meant to take on global warming.

During a press conference on Monday, Manchin made clear that he still has reservations about the sweeping climate and social spending bill that has already been narrowed because of his complaints. The bill contains more than $550 billion to address climate change. 

“We must allow time for complete transparency and analysis on the impact of changes to our tax code and energy and climate policies to ensure that our country is well-positioned to remain the superpower of the world,” Manchin said Monday.

Tags China Climate change Donald Trump Joe Biden Joe Manchin Russia Scotland UN Climate Summit United Kingdom

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