By Patsy Widakuswara and Anita Powell
U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday announced a range of American commitments aimed at curbing global warming, as leaders from more than 100 countries gathered in Glasgow for the U.N. Climate Change Conference.
“The United States will be able to meet the ambitious target I set at the Leaders Summit on climate back in April, reducing U.S. emissions by 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030,” Biden said. “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. I know it hasn’t been the case, and that’s why my administration is working overtime to show that our climate commitment is action, not words.”
Those new goals include a set of new U.S. climate commitments that build on previous global agreements: the unveiling of plans for a $3 billion President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience to tackle climate awareness, financing and adaptation efforts, and a raft of domestically focused legislation that aims to shore up American infrastructure while also cutting greenhouse gas pollution by well over one gigaton in 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 previously 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 in November 2020, but Biden rejoined the deal on his first day in office.
Biden’s critics note that some of his administration’s climate commitments are not as large as those promised by other developed nations.
Biden also said, late Sunday, that he is “disappointed” that China and Russia have yet to come up with new commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
“The disappointment relates to the fact that Russia and, and including not only Russia, but China, basically didn’t show up in terms of any commitments to deal with climate change,” Biden said. “And there’s a reason why people should be disappointed in that. I found it disappointing myself.”
China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that cause global warming, announced last Thursday it has no new significant goals to reduce climate-changing emissions.
On Monday, China’s government announced that President Xi Jinping will only address the summit in the form of a written statement.
This year’s summit 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 pre-industrial levels.
“We go into (the summit) with roughly 65% of the world’s economy in line with a 1.5 degree commitment, with still some significant outliers, one of those significant outliers being China, who will not be represented at the leader level at COP-26,” said U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Monday. “And who we do believe has an obligation to step up to greater ambition as we go forward.
Administration officials have repeatedly described China as the U.S.’ biggest adversary and said the relationship between the two powers is a challenging one. But, Sullivan said, that should have no impact on this globally important issue.
“They are perfectly well capable of living up to their responsibilities,” he said. “It’s up to them to do so. And nothing about the nature of the relationship between the U.S. and China, structurally or otherwise, impedes or stands in the way of them doing their part.”
But, said analyst Sarang Shidore, director of studies at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft in Washington, this may prove to be a stumbling block.
“Expectations are low for COP-26 due to two reasons,” he said. ”One is that the U.S.-China tensions continue to be very sharp in the Biden period, and this is detracting from cooperation on climate change.”
And, he said, wealthy nations, while making large promises themselves, can’t do this on their own.
“Countries are unable to get each other to raise ambition, and wealthy countries are playing a weak game on the sort of robust and urgent financing commitments that the Global South is due, not as charity, but as a right,” he said.
The summit continues through Tuesday.