Biden Set to Host World Leaders for Climate Forum
The president urged nations to take on more ambitious climate targets.,
Biden implores world leaders to take action on climate change: ‘We don’t have a lot of time.’
- Sept. 17, 2021Updated 2:26 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON — President Biden on Friday announced that the United States and Europe have pledged to work to cut global methane emissions by a third in the coming decade and urged other nations to join their effort to curb a potent greenhouse gas that is warming the planet.
In a virtual meeting hosted by the White House that included nine heads of state, the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and ministers from a handful of other countries, Mr. Biden called the methane target an “ambitious but realistic goal” that the United States will help developing countries meet.
The effort comes less than two months before a United Nations climate change summit in Glasgow, Scotland where all nations will be expected to announce more ambitious efforts over the next decade to cut the emissions that primarily arise from burning fossil fuels. Scientists say the world needs to sharply pivot away from oil, gas and coal or suffer catastrophic impacts from climate change.
“I need to tell you the consequences of inaction,” Mr. Biden said. “Over the last two weeks, I’ve traveled across the United States to see the damage and destruction from record hurricanes, record floods, and wildfires” that, he noted, are worsening because of warming temperatures.
Nodding to the cascade of disasters in recent months around the globe from flooding across Germany and Belgium to fires raging in Australia and Russia and a record temperature of 118 degree Fahrenheit recorded in the Arctic Circle, Mr. Biden told leaders, “We don’t have a lot of time.”
But observers noted the absence Friday of some key leaders — notably, President Xi Jinping of China.
China did send Xie Zhenhua, the country’s climate envoy. But coming on the heels of Mr. Biden’s announcement of a new military pact with Australia and Britain as a strategic deterrent to China, experts said Mr. Xi’s absence on Friday was a worrisome sign that tension between Washington and Beijing could undermine climate cooperation.
“It is problematic,” said Robert N. Stavins, an environmental economist at Harvard University who closely follows international climate negotiations.
He added, “We have evolved from cooperation in the Obama years to confrontation — on trade, Hong Kong democracy, security in the South China Sea and intellectual property.”
China and the United States are the world’s top two climate polluters, in that order. Mr. Biden has promised to cut U.S. emissions 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Achieving that goal, however, depends in large part on passage of a $3.5 trillion budget bill that is facing headwinds in Congress.
China, meanwhile, has promised to reach net-zero emissions by 2060 but has so far not announced fresh targets to cut emissions over the coming decade.
“Unless China commits in the next month to peak their overall emissions before 2025, they risk being isolated in the run up to Glasgow, and perhaps deemed responsible if the overall negotiations fail,” said Paul Bledsoe, a strategic adviser with the Progressive Policy Institute.
Brazil, another top emitter, also did not attend, according to the White House.
Participants included the leaders of Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, and Britain. The presidents of the E.U. council and commission attended and India, Russia and Germany sent envoys.
John Kerry, Mr. Biden’s climate envoy, and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken also attended the meeting.
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency is now readying stringent new regulations on the oil and gas sector, which is the largest industrial source of the pollutant.
Carbon dioxide makes up most of the greenhouse gases in the U.S., and stays in the atmosphere for centuries. Methane lingers in the atmosphere for only about a decade but in that time is far more potent at warming the Earth.
“Cutting methane pollution is the single fastest, most effective strategy we have to slow the rate of warming. The benefits will be almost immediate,” Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement.
Adam Bernstein, managing director of North Sky Capital, an investment firm that specializes in clean technology, called the global goal “doable.”
“There is no real technological leap that it takes. The technology exists today it’s just a question of getting the state and local policies in place to support that goal,” he said.