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Biden Opens Climate Talks with Set of New US Climate Commitments


President Joe Biden arrives at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 1, 2021.
President Joe Biden arrives at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 1, 2021.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday announced a range of American commitments aimed at curbing global warming, as leaders from more than 100 countries gathered in Glasgow for the U.N. Climate Change Conference.

“The United States will be able to meet the ambitious target I set at the Leaders Summit on climate back in April, reducing U.S. emissions by 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030,” Biden said. “We will demonstrate to the world that the United States is not only back at the table, but hopefully leading by the power of our example. I know it hasn't been the case, and that's why my administration is working overtime to show that our climate commitment is action, not words.”

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Biden: US Back at Climate Table
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Those new goals include a set of new U.S. climate commitments that build on previous global agreements: the unveiling of plans for a $3 billion President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience to tackle climate awareness, financing and adaptation efforts, and a raft of domestically focused legislation that aims to shore up American infrastructure while also cutting greenhouse gas pollution by well over one gigaton in 2030.

That legislation has occupied the U.S. Congress for months, with members of the legislative body negotiating fiercely throughout -- but ultimately, failing to bring the matter to a vote before Biden left for the summit last week.

The U.S. has previously faltered on its own climate commitments, with former President Donald Trump announcing in 2017 that he was withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. That took effect in November 2020, but Biden rejoined the deal on his first day in office.

Biden’s critics note that some of his administration’s climate commitments are not as large as those promised by other developed nations.

Biden also said, late Sunday, that he is “disappointed” that China and Russia have yet to come up with new commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

“The disappointment relates to the fact that Russia and, and including not only Russia, but China, basically didn’t show up in terms of any commitments to deal with climate change,” Biden said. “And there’s a reason why people should be disappointed in that. I found it disappointing myself.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin is not attending the summit. His government on Monday approved a climate strategy that targets carbon neutrality by 2060.

“Russia has clearly set its perspectives,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday. “Besides that, Russia is ahead of many countries, including Western Europe’s countries, on many parameters in terms of transition, to less carbon intensive ways of generation and production.”

China opts out

China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that cause global warming, announced last Thursday it had no new significant goals to reduce climate-changing emissions. Its plans include having the country’s carbon emissions peak before 2030 and achieving no net emissions of carbon dioxide by 2060.

“Specific implementation plans for key areas such as energy, industry, construction and transport, and for key sectors such as coal, electricity, iron and steel, and cement will be rolled out, coupled with supporting measures in terms of science and technology, carbon sink, fiscal and taxation, and financial incentives,” President Xi Jinping said in a written address to the climate summit Monday, according to a copy posted by China’s Xinhua news agency.

Xi called on developed nations to both “do more themselves” and support developing nations in their climate efforts.

This year’s summit builds on a legally binding agreement that 196 parties, including the U.S., Russia and China, signed six years ago in Paris. The international treaty commits those countries to embark on emissions cuts that aim to limit the planet’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels.

“We go into (the summit) with roughly 65% of the world's economy in line with a 1.5 degree commitment, with still some significant outliers, one of those significant outliers being China, who will not be represented at the leader level at COP-26,” said U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Monday. “And who we do believe has an obligation to step up to greater ambition as we go forward."

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday that the world cannot afford to wait.

“The six years since the Paris Climate Agreement have been the six hottest years on record,” he said. “Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink. We face a stark choice: Either we stop it, or it stops us.”

U.S.-China tensions

Administration officials have repeatedly described China as the U.S.’ biggest adversary and said the relationship between the two powers is a challenging one. But, Sullivan said, that should have no impact on this globally important issue.

“They are perfectly well capable of living up to their responsibilities,” he said. “It's up to them to do so. And nothing about the nature of the relationship between the U.S. and China, structurally or otherwise, impedes or stands in the way of them doing their part.”

But, said analyst Sarang Shidore, director of studies at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft in Washington, this may prove to be a stumbling block.

“Expectations are low for COP-26 due to two reasons,” he said. ”One is that the U.S.-China tensions continue to be very sharp in the Biden period, and this is detracting from cooperation on climate change.”

And, he said, wealthy nations, while making large promises themselves, can’t do this on their own.

“Countries are unable to get each other to raise ambition, and wealthy countries are playing a weak game on the sort of robust and urgent financing commitments that the Global South is due, not as charity, but as a right,” he said.

The summit continues through Tuesday.