The global climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, seen as the most important climate talks since the 2015 Paris Agreement, began with speeches by world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, who said the climate crisis is “ravaging the world.” Developed countries need to take the lead and address their climate responsibility, he added -- emphasizing that the US is ready to lead by action.
Biden tried to clarify the position of the US, noting that a lot has changed in the past few years. He said that ‘American people, four or five years ago, weren’t at all sure about climate change, whether it was real’. Now, things seem to be very different. A recent Pew Research Center analysis found 60% of Americans see climate change as a major threat to the well-being of the United States. Biden also emphasized that he rejoined the Paris Agreement on climate change on his first day in office -- a major U-turn from his predecessor, Donald Trump, who at times referred to climate change as a "hoax".
"I guess I shouldn’t apologize, but I do apologize for the fact that the United States — the last administration pulled out of the Paris accord," Biden told the delegates at COP26.
The summit, COP26, gathers governments, civil society, and media for two weeks to discuss ways to further increase climate ambition and deliver on the Paris Agreement to limit the global average temperature increase to 2ºC. With the current government pledges, the world is set on a 2.7ºC warming trajectory -- and few countries are even respecting these pledges. This can still be addressed, but the window of opportunity is closing, hence the sence of urgency.
Biden reaffirmed the US government plan to reduce emissions by 50% to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030, “demonstrating the world” that the US is not only “back at the table” but also leading “by the power of example.” He said “this hasn’t been the case” before he was elected but said to be “working overtime” to show climate leadership.
“We have a brief window to raise ambition and meet the task,” Biden said, speaking at the opening segment of the summit. “Glasgow must be the kick off of a decade of ambition innovation. Climate change is affecting the world, it’s not something hypothetical. It’s already costing our nations trillions of dollars and affecting people.”
Biden told delegates that the US wants to become a net-zero emissions economy no later than 2050, saying the government will soon introduce a long-term decarbonization strategy. He also touted his legislative plans, still awaiting approval by his fellow Democrats in Congress, to allocate $500 billion to address climate change.
The plan consists of new and expanded tax incentives to promote clean energy technologies and it would mark “the most significant investment to deal with the climate crisis” that the US has ever done, Biden said. The investment would be “enough” to allow the US to deliver on its climate targets by 2030, Biden added.
While every country has to do its part, Biden said developed countries have to support developing ones so they can deliver on their climate pledges. He said the US has “an obligation” to help them, especially with funding. In fact, Biden wants to provide $3 billion in financing per year by 2024, something that will have to pass by Congress.
But rhetoric is one thing, and actually acting is another. For starters, per capita US emissions are already about two times higher than the average in Europe, and even if Biden's good intentions are true, we've seen with the past administration just how quickly progress can be reversed.
For many climate activists gathered outside the venue that hosted Biden and other 120 world leaders in Glasgow, the US is also failing to live up to its words. They questioned the fact that his climate plan is still stuck at Congress and that his administration has so far been reluctant to scale back oil and gas drilling in the US, instead of granting new permits.
Manish Bapna, president and CEO of the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), said in a statement that it’s “unjust” that those who least created the climate crisis have to pay the highest price for its consequences. He said the US has to build on its promise and provide the resources developing countries need to address the growing costs of the climate crisis.
Biden’s speech was one of the first ones after the official opening of COP26, in which leaders acknowledged the distress over the escalating climate crisis. UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said “we are digging our own graves” due to the failure to address emissions, while British prime minister Boris Johnson said children not yet born will be the ones judging us. Hopefully, action will live up to these big words.