Biden Says U.S. Will Lead During 'Decisive Decade' For Climate

"Will we act?" Biden asked during a speech at the United Nations climate conference. "Or will we condemn future generations to suffer?"

Noting that climate change is already “destroying people’s lives and livelihoods,” U.S. President Joe Biden told world leaders at the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on Monday that they can count on the United States to once again spearhead the fight against the environmental crisis.

“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,” Biden said. “I know it hasn’t been the case. That’s why my administration is working overtime to show that our climate commitment is action — not words.”

It was an unmistakable reference to former President Donald Trump, who walked away from the country’s global commitments when he withdrew the United States from the historic Paris climate accord and worked to boost oil and gas production amid a crisis fueled by the world’s addiction to fossil fuels.

Biden described the next 10 years as “a decisive decade” for confronting the threat of climate change and its mounting, interlocking effects.

“Glasgow must be the kickoff of a decade of innovation and ambition to preserve our shared future,” he said.

“Will we act? Will we do what is necessary? Will we seize the enormous opportunity before us? Or will we condemn future generations to suffer? This is the decade that will determine the answer.”

World leaders are gathered in Glasgow for COP26, the largest annual international climate conference, where they hope to chart a course for rapidly reining in greenhouse gas emissions and slowing climate change before many of its consequences become irreversible. The event was delayed a full year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Alok Sharma, a British politician and president of the summit, called the gathering the world’s “last best hope” to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels.

“The lights are flashing red on the climate dashboard,” Sharma said at the conference’s opening ceremony Sunday.

Ahead of Biden’s speech, the White House unveiled its strategy for slashing carbon emissions at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030, and achieving net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. It also announced plans for a new program, which would require congressional approval, to provide $3 billion annually to assist developing countries with climate adaptation.

Biden touted those actions, as well as the $550 billion in climate funding included in Democrats’ $1.75 trillion framework for a now scaled-down budget bill.

“My Build Back Better framework will make historic investments in clean energy — the most significant investment to deal with the climate crisis that any advanced nation has made, ever,” he said.

But while Democrats and Republicans in Congress have struck a deal on the spending bill, they have yet to vote on it. And Biden arrived at the UN conference with a far shorter list of climate wins than he’d hoped for — a reality that many fear will undermine the administration’s efforts to persuade other countries to strengthen their commitments.

With Congress slow to act, environmental groups have renewed calls for Biden to use his executive powers to transition the country away from planet-warming fossil fuels, including by stopping approvals of new pipeline and other oil and gas projects, halting federal fossil fuel leasing and reinstating a ban on crude oil exports.

“In an age where this pandemic has made so painfully clear that no nation can wall itself off from borderless threats, we know none of us can escape the worst that is yet to come if we fail to seize this moment,” Biden said Monday. “We’re standing at an inflection point in world history. We have the ability to invest in ourselves and build an equitable clean energy future, and in the process create millions of good-paying jobs and opportunities around the world.”

Biden acknowledged the United States’ outsized role in contributing to the crisis, as well as its responsibility to help solve the problem.

“Those of us who are responsible for much of the deforestation, and all the problems we have so far, have an overwhelming obligation to the nations that have not,” he said. “We have to help, much more than we have thus far.”

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