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Biden Touts Climate Commitments, Slams Adversaries at Climate Summit

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 2, 2021.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced sweeping, ambitious climate commitments and delivered scathing remarks aimed at adversaries not doing the same, as leaders from more than 100 nations met for their second and final day of talks at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, in Glasgow.

On Tuesday, the Biden administration announced it would join other participants in signing a landmark agreement to halt deforestation and restore 200 million hectares of forest and other ecosystems by the year 2030. Additionally, Biden unveiled a plan that pulls together different sectors of the U.S. government — including the departments of Energy, Agriculture, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and the Interior — to cut methane emissions.

But as he lauded those achievements, Biden also struck out at the two leaders who did not attend the COP26 meeting in person: Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I think it's been a big mistake, quite frankly, for China, and this leads back to China, not showing up," Biden said. "The rest of the world is going to look to China and say, 'What value added are they providing?' And they've lost an ability to influence people around the world and all the people here at COP, the same way I would argue with regard to Russia."

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Biden Slams China, Russia on Climate Commitments
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This year's summit, which continues until November 12, 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.

Summit commitments

Other nations have made their own commitments at this summit. Late Monday, India's leader announced a 2070 deadline for his country to reach net-zero carbon emissions. India is the world's third-largest polluter, and critics of this announcement said 2070 is two decades too late. Climate experts have said the world needs to reach this deadline in the next 30 years.

On deforestation, the signatories to the multilateral agreement included Russia and other nations with large tracts of forested land, such as Brazil, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Canada and Colombia. Forests play a key role in absorbing harmful carbon dioxide.

Biden also said he would work with Congress to set aside another $9 billion to conserve forests, though when making the announcement he did not say how soon this could happen or how.

On methane, the Biden administration's plan should bring the United States in line with the Global Methane Pledge, in which the world's largest emitters aim to reduce overall methane emissions to 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.

"What we're going to do between now and 2030 is going to impact significantly ... whether we'll be able to meet our longer-term commitment," Biden said. "And one of the most important things we can do in this decisive decade is — to keep 1.5 degrees in reach — is reduce our methane emissions as quickly as possible."

Benefits of methane reduction

Methane, the simplest hydrocarbon, is a gas that contributes directly to global warming. It is produced during the production and transport of coal, natural gas and oil. Livestock, landfills and agricultural practices also produce large amounts of the gas.

"Cutting methane emissions is essential to keep global warming from breaching 1.5 C," said Helen Mountford, vice president for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute. "This pledge from over 90 countries to cut methane emissions by at least 30% over the coming decade sets a strong floor in terms of the ambition we need globally. Strong and rapid action to cut methane emissions offers a range of benefits, from limiting near-term warming and curbing air pollution to improved food security and better public health."

These plans follow Monday's announcements of new U.S. climate commitments that build on previous global agreements: the unveiling of plans for the $3 billion President's Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience to encourage climate awareness, financing and adaptation efforts, which are part of Biden's broader climate financing package. But it is not certain whether the U.S. leader can deliver on that promise, which still needs congressional approval.

Additionally, Biden touted domestically focused legislation that aims to shore up American infrastructure while also cutting greenhouse gas pollution by well over 1 gigaton by 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 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 November 2020, but Biden rejoined the deal on his first day in office.

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

China's plan criticized

On Monday, China's leader announced his nation's plans to address climate change — a plan that critics said fell short of making any new commitments to reduce emissions.

"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 "do more themselves" and to support developing nations in their climate efforts.

VOA's Chris Hannas contributed to this report.

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