President Joe Biden vowed at a climate conference in Egypt Friday that U.S. will do its part to avert a “climate hell,” a reference to U.N. Secretary General António Guterres’ dire warning that “we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.” On Monday, Guterres told world leaders that Earth is rapidly approaching “tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible.”
Mr. Biden touted U.S. climate efforts at home and around the world, and said with “confidence” the U.S. would reach its emissions targets by 2030.
“We’re proving that good climate policy is good economic policy,” Mr. Biden told the U.N. climate conference, known as COP27. “It’s a strong foundation for durable, resilient, inclusive economic growth that’s driving progress in the private sector — that’s driving progress around the world.”
Mr. Biden’s attendance at the gathering, in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, is the first stop on an around-the-world trip that will also take him to a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders in Cambodia and a Group of 20 summit meeting for leaders of the world’s largest economies in Bali, Indonesia.
Mr. Biden pointed to Russia’s war on Ukraine as reason for the need to diversify away from fossil fuels, and as an impetus for nations of the world to rally together.
“Against this backdrop, it’s more urgent than ever that we double down on our climate commitments,” Mr. Biden said. “Russia’s war only enhances the urgency of the need to transition the world off its dependence on fossil fuels. True energy security means every nation, means that every nation is benefitting from clean, diversified energy future. No action, no action, can be taken without a nation understanding that it can use energy as a weapon and hold the global economy hostage. It must stop. And so, this gathering must be the moment to recommit our future and our shared capacity to write a better story for the world.”
As soon as he arrived in Egypt, Mr. Biden met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Through a translator, el-Sisi welcomed Mr. Biden and said that since the U.S. media was present, he wanted to talk about overall issues in the Middle East. At the “center of debate” is human rights, el-Sisi said, claiming Egyptians have taken a “comprehensive approach” to human rights with the establishment of a national academy for human rights.
Mr. Biden thanked the Egyptian president for his cooperation on climate change, and for hosting the summit. Mr. Biden also thanked el-Sisi for Egypt’s “strong” stance with the United Nations regarding the Russian war in Ukraine. Mr. Biden said the two leaders will discuss human rights.
The U.S. president arrived in Egypt buoyed by a stronger-than-expected showing by the Democratic Party in Tuesday’s midterm elections, congressional passage this year of the largest climate investment in U.S. history and Russian military setbacks on the Ukrainian battlefield.
At the climate conference, Mr. Biden is discussing a new supplemental rule coming Friday that cracks down on methane emissions, a measure that expands on a similar regulation his administration released last year.
The 2021 rule targeted emissions of methane — a potent greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming — from existing oil and gas wells nationwide, rather than focusing only on new wells as previous Environmental Protection Agency regulations have done. But this year’s rule goes a step further and takes aim at all drilling sites, including smaller wells that emit less than 3 tons (2.7 metric tonnes) of methane per year.
He also spotlighted one of his key domestic successes — the Democrats’ massive health care and climate change bill known as the Inflation Reduction Act.
The U.S. commitment of some $375 billion over a decade to fight climate change gives Mr. Biden greater leverage to press other nations to make good on their pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition the global economy toward cleaner energy sources.
The president will be in a far different position from last year’s gathering, which came about during a particularly unhappy stretch in the bill’s tortuous path to passage.
That summit resulted in additional global commitments to meet the temperature targets agreed to in the Paris Climate Accord, which Mr. Biden rejoined after his predecessor, Donald Trump, pulled the U.S. from the deal.
In his remarks, Mr. Biden also called on all major emitting countries to “align their ambition” to the international goal of trying to limit future global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the White House.
But even with these renewed efforts, America and the world have a long way to go to meet emissions targets that scientists hope will contain global warming. And the political will for more investment — as the global economy faces new headwinds — is shrinking.
Speaking at the COP27 summit Wednesday, climate activist and former Vice President Al Gore called Mr. Biden a “climate hero in my book,” adding that “the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act represents the most significant pro-climate legislation ever passed by any nation in all of history.”
Mr. Biden said that the U.S. supports the Global Shield, an international effort to protect poorer nations from “climate related losses” and “climate related damages.” The item top of mind at the climate talks is loss and damage. That’s international negotiations language for asking rich countries like the United States, the top historic polluting nation, to pay what are essentially reparations for damages caused to poorer vulnerable nations that don’t emit much heat-trapping carbon dioxide.
In the past the United States has been against even talking about the issue, but it has now softened its stance, agreeing to the topic being discussed. Special Envoy John Kerry has even mentioned it in speeches. However, the U.S. doesn’t want liability to be part of any deal and when it comes to paying, Congress and the public have been reluctant to embrace many types of climate aid — and this is the most controversial type.
“I wish the U.S. would say something constructive about loss and damage” because it could get a vital issue moving, Princeton University climate and global affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer said.
Global eagerness for shifting away from fossil fuels has been tempered by the roiling of world energy markets after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At home and abroad, Biden is pressing oil and gas producers to boost production to meet demand and bring down prices that have funded the Kremlin’s war effort.
Prospects for a significant breakthrough are further dampened as major emitters such as China and India are sending less-senior delegations. Biden administration officials have tried to lower expectations for results at the meeting and instead cast it as a return to U.S. leadership on the issue.
Mr. Biden leaves Washington with votes still being tallied in key races that will determine control of both chambers of Congress. Still, the president was feeling the wind at his back as Democrats performed stronger than expected. He was likely to learn the results of the races that will sharply impact his ability to get things done in Washington while he was overseas.
Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry told The Associated Press on Thursday that he understood Mr. Biden’s visit in Sharm el-Sheikh to be “an indication of the political will to move the process forward” on tackling global warming.
“We hope … it will resonate within the collective will of the negotiating groups that the United States is party to, but also in creating a momentum for the conference, for the parties to deliver what is expected,” he said.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said the president and other senior officials would also advocate for the release of imprisoned Egyptian pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, whose family said they were told by prison officials he was undergoing an undefined medical intervention amid a hunger strike that escalated Sunday.
After his brief stop in Egypt, the president will continue on to Cambodia for a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to reinforce the U.S. commitment to the region in the face of China’s increasing assertiveness.
And then, in Indonesia, the president is set to hold his first sitdown as president with a newly empowered Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was awarded a norm-breaking third, five-year term as the Chinese Communist Party leader during the party’s national congress last month amid increasingly strained U.S.-China relations.
The White House has been working with Chinese officials over the last several weeks to arrange the meeting. Mr. Biden on Wednesday told reporters that he intended to discuss with Xi growing tensions between Washington and Beijing over the self-ruled island of Taiwan, trade policies, Beijing’s relationship with Russia and more.
“What I want to do with him when we talk is lay out what each of our red lines are and understand what he believes to be in the critical national interests of China, what I know to be the critical interests of the United States,” Mr. Biden said. “And determine whether or not they conflict with one another.”
Mr. Biden will also aim to demonstrate global resolve to stand up to Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and meet with two critical new partners in the effort to support Ukraine’s defense: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni. President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday that he was skipping the gatherings, averting a potentially awkward encounter. Sullivan said the president has no plans to interact with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who is attending in Putin’s stead.
In Cambodia, Mr. Biden will also discuss North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs in a trilateral meeting with leaders of South Korea and Japan.