Biden faces high expectations at UN climate talks
US President Joe Biden headed to UN climate talks in Egypt on Friday armed with major domestic achievements against global warming but under pressure to do more for countries reeling from natural disasters.
Biden will spend only a few hours at COP27 in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, three days after US midterm elections that have raised questions about what the result could mean for US climate policy.
Climate action in the United States — the world’s second-biggest emitter — was given a major boost this year when Congress passed a landmark spending bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes $369 billion for clean energy and climate initiatives.
“We’re living in a decisive decade –- one in which we have an opportunity to prove ourselves and advance the global climate fight,” Biden said on Twitter.
“Let this be a moment where we answer history’s call. Together,” said the US leader, who skipped a two-day summit of some 100 world leaders at COP27 earlier this week that coincided with the US election.
New research shows just how dauntingly hard it will be to meet the goal of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels — requiring emissions to be slashed nearly in half by 2030.
The new study — published on Friday in the journal Earth System Science Data — found that CO2 emissions from fossil fuels are on track to rise one percent in 2022 to reach an all-time high.
COP27 talks have been dominated by the need for wealthy polluters to stop stalling on helping developing countries green their economies and prepare for future impacts — as well as calls to provide financial help for the damage already being caused by climate-induced catastrophes.
“The world needs the United States to be a climate leader in our fight for climate justice,” prominent Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate, a 25-year-old Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, told AFP.
Germany’s climate envoy, Jennifer Morgan, said Biden’s attendance at COP27 was a “very good sign”.
“I think it reassures countries, people, that the United States at the highest level takes this issue incredibly seriously and we need that,” Morgan told reporters.
– Climate-sceptic Republicans –
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Biden will “underscore the need to go further, faster, to help the most vulnerable communities build their resilience” and push major economies to “dramatically” cut emissions.
“How long do we have to sit around to wait before we say, ‘Hey let’s get really serious,” US climate envoy John Kerry told a COP27 panel.
Kerry presented this week a public-private partnership aimed at supporting the transition to renewable energy in developing nations and based on a carbon credit system.
But the plan has been panned by activists wary of firms using these to “offset” their carbon emissions.
With Republicans apparently poised to retake the House of Representatives, part of Biden’s climate agenda could take a hit. Democrats have a chance to retain the Senate.
Biden pledged to contribute $11.4 billion to a $100 billion per-year-scheme through which rich countries will help developing ones transition to renewable energies and build climate resilience.
But Democrats would have to rush it through Congress before climate-sceptic Republicans take office in January.
“We’re going to be pressing for passage of the appropriations bills,” US lawmaker Kathy Castor, who chairs a special climate crisis committee in the House, told AFP.
“Hopefully Republicans in the Congress will not block it,” she said.
– ‘Loss and damage’ –
The United States has for years resisted attempts to establish a “loss and damage” fund in which rich polluters would compensate developing nations for the destruction from climate-related disasters.
Emerging countries successfully put the issue on the official COP27 agenda, with fraught negotiations likely before talks end on November 18.
Biden will also use the trip to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and discuss the human rights situation in the country, where the case of jailed dissident Alaa Abdel Fattah was raised by other leaders earlier this week.
Ahead of his trip, the White House expressed “deep concern” for the jailed British-Egyptian activist, who is on a hunger strike.
After COP27, Biden will head to an ASEAN regional summit in Cambodia at the weekend before travelling to Indonesia for G20 talks.
Biden may have a chance to revive cooperation with China when he meets President Xi Jinping at the G20.
US-Sino cooperation has been crucial to the fight against global warming, but Beijing cut off climate talks with Washington after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August.