Joe Biden has implored countries to do more to address the climate emergency, telling the COP27 summit that world leaders “can no longer plead ignorance” and that time to confront the crisis is running out.
Biden told a large crowd of delegates at the talks, held in Egypt, that “the science is devastatingly clear – we need to make progress by the end of this decade.” The US president said America was taking action to reduce global warming emissions and other major economies needed to “step up” to avoid a disastrous 1.5C break in global warming.
“Let us increase both our ambition and the speed of our efforts,” he said in his speech Friday in Sharm el-Sheikh. “If we are to win this fight, all major emitters must align with 1.5C. We can no longer plead ignorance of the consequences of our actions or continue to repeat our mistakes. Everyone must continue to accelerate progress throughout this decisive decade.
Biden, buoyed by better-than-expected midterm election results for Democrats this week, said governments needed to “put in place meaningful progress markers” in cutting emissions. Scientists have warned that the world is heading towards disastrous levels of global warming, with emissions still not falling fast enough to avert severe heat waves, wildfires, droughts and other impacts of the climate crisis.
“It has been a difficult few years; the interconnected challenges we face can seem all-consuming,” said Biden, who accused Vladimir Putin of using “energy as a weapon” during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an action that has raised skyrocketing energy and food prices around the world. “In this context, it is more urgent than ever to redouble our efforts in our climate commitment.”
Biden, who was briefly interrupted by a small group of climate protesters, said the United States was committed to helping developing countries hardest hit by climate impacts, but did not mention making payments via “loss and damage”, the hot topic of Cop27 and the most pressing issue for vulnerable communities already suffering from worsening disasters.
The protesters were indigenous youth and activists from the United States, calling on Biden to stop pushing fossil fuel extraction. “The president, members of congress and the State Department have come to this international climate change forum offering bogus solutions that won’t get us to 1.5 degrees,” said Big Wind, 29, a member. of the Northern Arapaho tribe in Wyoming.
“We need to accelerate the transition, but that won’t happen by partnering with big polluters like Amazon and PepsiCo, and so we had to call it out,” he said, referring to an announcement made earlier this week by US climate envoy John Kerry. , the Bezos Earth Fund and PepsiCo, among others, on plans to design an energy transition accelerator.
Biden used the speech to unveil a number of new measures, including a plan to reduce methane emissions in the United States, support new early warning systems for extreme weather disasters in Africa and an agreement to support new solar and wind projects in Egypt in exchange for the country dismantling gas-fired power plants and reducing its emissions.
The standout pledge Biden has made is the plan to reduce methane, a potent greenhouse gas that regularly leaks from oil and gas drilling operations, the burning of the gas itself, and agriculture. Methane does not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide but traps 80 times more heat, on average, within 20 years of its release.
New methane cuts could be undermined elsewhere. According to Bill Hare, managing director of Climate Analytics, a slew of new gas projects in the United States, approved by the federal government, could lead to a 500% increase in methane emissions by 2030 if all planned developments materialize.
“So while it’s great to clean up methane fugitives from the oil and gas industry, let’s be clear – the United States is increasing its gas production at a time when it should be figuring out how to reduce it,” Hare said. said.
Newly strengthened standards will help reduce methane emissions by 87% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, thanks to new regulations aimed at limiting gas flaring and methane leaks from oil and gas boreholes and pumps. A new program will require oil and gas companies to respond to third-party reports of methane leaks.
Environmental groups have called on Biden, still facing the possibility of Republican control of Congress after the midterm elections, to more aggressively wield the unilateral power of the presidency to move away from fossil fuel use. .
“The new methane reduction plan is welcome and long overdue, but President Biden needs to bring much more to these negotiations,” said Jean Su, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s energy justice program. “It’s high time for Biden to declare a climate emergency and stop endorsing new fossil fuel projects that will release more methane into the atmosphere, even at these standards.”
It turned out a mixed Cop27 for the United States in Sharm el-Sheikh. The U.S. delegation was keen to tout the reputation-boosting passage of the Cut Inflation Act, a sweeping clean energy support package, and the first major clean energy bill. the climate ever promulgated by the United States. John Kerry, the US climate envoy, called the law “transformational” and “one of the most important bills of the past 50 years”.
But critics have pointed out that the United States has yet to provide the level of climate finance befitting its role as the world’s economic superpower and the biggest emitter of carbon pollution in history. Even the $11 billion already pledged by the United States to support developing countries ravaged by climate-related storms, fires and drought, which Kerry admitted is not enough, is uncertain given the possible composition of the Congress.
The issue of “loss and damage”, or a form of compensation paid by rich countries to poorer nations suffering inevitable depredations due to the climate crisis, was on the agenda of COP27, but US officials have said discussions on any kind of funding mechanism could take another two years.
“We have a responsibility, we made a commitment,” said Nancy Pelosi, now Speaker of the House of Representatives, of developing countries during a visit to COP27. But, she added, “it’s a challenge, and we haven’t succeeded yet, to get the global funding we need to be good neighbors on this planet.”
Alice Hill, former climate adviser to Barack Obama, said: “President Biden wants to keep the 1.5C target, insisting that every emitting country do their part. He announced a slew of new climate programs, but he couldn’t deliver what the developing world wants most – enough money to adapt to climate extremes. He will need congressional cooperation to accomplish this.
Activists around the world at Cop27 said the United States needed to do much more, but global warming emissions in the United States are expected to rise about 1.5% this year, due to an increase gas consumption and a rebound in air travel following the depths of the Covid pandemic.
“The United States is the biggest polluter in history and has the financial and technological means to solve the climate crisis, but has repeatedly failed to deliver on its promises,” said Mohamed Adow, director of think tank Power Shift Africa..
“We are paying for the crimes of the corporations and the Global North, which have made Pakistan a hub of climate disasters,” said Farooq Tariq, a veteran Pakistani climate activist. More than a third of his country has been inundated by floods since June, displacing more than 30 million people, and scientists said global warming likely made the disaster worse.
“We want no more words, we want debt suspension, we want reparations, we want climate justice,” Tariq said.
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