Biden unveils climate, aid plans

WASHINGTON (Agencies): President Biden announced a set of small new actions by his administration to address climate change in a speech at the United Nations climate change conference on Friday. The new measures include pledging more than $200 million in funding for climate change resilience and adaptation in developing countries, and a new plan to reduce emissions of methane — an especially potent greenhouse gas — from oil and gas infrastructure.
“The climate crisis is about human security, economic security, environmental security, national security and the very life of the planet,” Biden said in a speech delivered at the conference known as COP27, which is being held in Sharm-el Sheikh, Egypt. “So today, I’d like to share with you how the United States is meeting the climate crisis with urgency and with determination to ensure a cleaner, safer, healthier planet for all of us.”
Most of what Biden went on to share was a recapitulation of actions the administration already has taken, including significant investments in reducing US greenhouse gas emissions through subsidies for clean energy sources, such as wind and solar power and electric vehicles, in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act. Those programs are projected to help cut US emissions by 40% from 2005 levels by the end of this decade.
The US, however, had committed at previous climate conferences to cut emissions by 50% by 2030. In Glasgow, Scotland, last year, Biden administration officials and congressional Democrats in attendance boasted of Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill, which included more expansive climate change components and would have put the US on track to meet the 50% target. Although the House of Representatives passed the measure shortly after delegates met in Glasgow in November of 2021, it subsequently died in the Senate. The Inflation Reduction Act, a scaled back version of the Build Back Better, left out or scaled back the prior legislation’s most ambitious climate programs.
Still, the Inflation Reduction Act was the first major law passed in the US seeking to address the climate crisis. The Biden administration now hopes to bridge the remaining gap between its prior emissions commitments through additional regulatory measures — such as the new methane rule proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency that was announced to coincide with Biden’s address — as well as actions from states and the private sector.
During the president’s speech Friday, the most enthusiastic response from the audience came when Biden pledged that the US would still live up to its word on meeting emissions cuts. “I can say with confidence, the United States will meet our emissions targets by 2030,” he said, to sustained applause.
Cognizant of the developing world’s concern with whether the US would also commit to helping poorer countries develop a clean energy-based economy, Biden also emphasized that the Inflation Reduction Act will have additional global benefits beyond the reduced American emissions, because cleaner technologies will become more affordable as their expansion helps those industries enjoy economies of scale and find new technical breakthroughs.
“[The bill] will spark a cycle of innovation that will reduce the cost and increase the availability of clean energy technology that will be available to countries worldwide, not just the United States,” Biden said. “It will accelerate decarbonization beyond our borders.” As is often the case for US officials at recent climate change conferences, the shadow of Biden’s climate science-denying predecessor loomed in the background. Biden was interrupted by applause when he noted that his administration had “immediately rejoined the Paris [climate] agreement” upon taking office. Former President Trump withdrew the US, leading Biden to seemingly ad-lib, “I apologize we ever pulled out of the agreement.”
Delegates from developing nations have been pushing wealthy countries to increase climate aid, and the question of how much the US and its allies will step up is a central tension at this year’s conference. Biden rehashed an array of assistance programs his administration has recently launched to help developing nations adapt to and prepare for the effects of climate change which, the president acknowledged, are disproportionately harming those poorer countries. For instance, Biden noted that the White House announced in late September that the US will provide $22 million in assistance to small island nations in the Pacific Ocean to monitor weather and ocean data and project impacts of climate change.
The president also had some new contributions to tout. The Biden administration on Friday announced a new commitment of $13.6 million to “help fill weather, water, and climate observation gaps in Africa” and $15 million to help Africa meet UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ goal of ensuring that within five years the entire world is covered by an early warning system for climate change-related natural disasters.
Some environmental activists, such as Jean Su, a director at the Center for Biological Diversity, saw those commitments as inadequate, and called on Biden to commit to US funding for loss-and-damage, which would establish a fund paid for by nations or corporations that have grown rich from fossil fuels to help compensate developing countries for the destruction climate change causes. “The call for loss-and-damage funding at this conference has been louder than ever before, so it’s disturbing that Biden was silent on paying off the tremendous debt the United States owes as the world’s largest historical climate polluter,” Su said. Yet there are clear limits for how much US funding Biden can commit without new congressional appropriation, and should Republicans retake control of the House of Representatives, that prospect will be further diminished. Last year, the United Nations projected that total climate finance for adaptation in developing countries will require $140 billion to $300 billion per year by 2030.