By Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder
President Joe Biden on Friday delivered a speech at the COP27 United Nations climate summit that was high on confidence but did not satisfy some activists who were expecting more amid concerns that Congress could waylay the administration’s pledges.
Biden told attendees that “America is acting” to “renew and raise our climate ambitions” before calling on other countries to follow suit.
“Countries that are in a position to help should be supporting developing countries so they can make decisive climate decisions, facilitating their energy transitions, building a path to prosperity compatible with our climate imperative,” Biden said. “Countries can finance coal in developing countries. There’s no reason why we can’t finance clean energy in developing countries.”
Biden went on to announce that the U.S. along with the European Union would provide $500 million to “finance and facilitate a transition to clean energy in Egypt,” where the conference is being held.
But some were hoping for more.
Pressure is mounting for industrialized countries like the U.S. to provide compensation for the losses and damages caused by climate change in poor countries and small island nations.
In fact, several European countries during the summit pledged to contribute to a new “loss and damage” fund, which Biden notably did not mention during his speech.
Instead, he touted a pledge he made last year to reach $11.4 billion in annual funding by 2024 to help developing nations respond to climate change.
“Climate crisis is hitting hardest those countries and communities that have the fewest resources to respond and recover,” Biden said.
It should be noted that Biden only secured $1 billion from Congress last year for the effort. With control of Congress still up in the air after the midterm elections, it’s unclear if he will be able to obtain the rest. Should Republicans take control in January, they are likely to crack down on Biden’s climate agenda.
“We’re going to fight to see that this and our other climate objectives are fully funded,” Biden pledged.
But the Biden administration is already facing blowback from a program announced earlier this week that would raise funds for renewable energy projects in developing countries by selling carbon credits to companies.
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry on Wednesday acknowledged that previous efforts to offset carbon emissions failed and “in many minds discredited the use of a carbon credit.” But he said this program would have stronger safeguards.
“We shouldn’t let the mistakes of the past keep us from employing a powerful tool for steering private capital where it is most needed,” Kerry said.
Biden on Friday mostly stuck to publicizing previous climate wins for the administration, including the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. The historic bill included about $370 billion in climate and energy spending, and scientists estimate that it could cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by up to roughly 40% below 2005 levels by 2030.
Biden called it the “biggest, most important climate bill in the history of our country.”
He also highlighted new measures from the U.S. government, including a proposed rule to require large federal contractors to disclose their greenhouse gas emission levels and create reduction targets and methane mitigation measures that he said would reduce methane emissions from covered sources by 87% below 2005 levels by 2030.
But climate activists and Democrats don’t want Biden to hang his hat up yet. They still want the president to declare climate change a national emergency, an option the Biden administration was reportedly considering before the measure passed.
“The new methane reduction plan is welcome and long overdue, but President Biden must bring far more to these negotiations,” Jean Su, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s energy justice program, told The Guardian. “It’s past time for Biden to declare a climate emergency and stop approving new fossil fuel projects that will release more methane into the atmosphere, even with these standards.”
Biden’s speech was also short on Egypt’s human rights record, which activists had pressed him to address.
After his speech, Biden was asked if he questioned Egyptian President Abdel Fattah about the case of imprisoned Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah, who is on a months-long hunger strike.
“What we talked about is the relationship between the United States and Egypt,” Biden said.
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