Biden urges climate action under spectre of fuel crisis

Russian invasion of Ukraine has left US and other countries seeking more fossil fuel output, threatening climate goals.

Biden climate
US President Joe Biden speaks as he hosts the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate Change (MEF) at the White House Complex in Washington, DC [Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

United States President Joe Biden has urged world leaders to ramp up efforts to combat climate change as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to underline the deep reliance on fossil fuels by the world’s top emitters.

The meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF), the third such forum since Biden took office and the largest leader-level climate gathering before the United Nation’s COP27 climate conference in November, comes at an awkward time for the US president, who has urged increased oil production both domestically and abroad, amid soaring prices.

Still, Biden told those assembled virtually on Friday that “climate security and energy security go hand in hand”.

“We cannot afford to let the critical goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius slip out of our reach and the science tells us that the window for action is rapidly narrowing,” Biden said.

“So I urge those countries that have not yet done so to set a 2030 emissions target to align with the Paris [accord] temperature goal … And to strengthen their targets for COP27,” he added, referring to the goal laid out in the 2015 Paris climate accord of keeping global temperatures below a 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) increase compared with pre-industrial levels.

“At the same time, we need new initiatives to accelerate our progress toward our goals and bolster our resilience,” he said.

Prior to Biden’s speech, the White House laid out a series of new initiatives and measures, saying Washington expected world leaders to “raise ambitions” in combating rising global temperatures at Friday’s forum and pledge to join “new efforts and initiatives aimed at tackling the climate crisis while advancing energy-security and food-security”.

A senior Biden administration said 23 countries were represented by video conference at the forum, including most of the world’s major economies. Members of the MEF account for roughly 80 percent of global economic output as well as 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Underscoring the current diplomatic complexities of global cooperation, Russia did not attend Friday’s summit. China, the world’s largest emitter, was set to only be represented by Beijing’s climate envoy, and not President Xi Jinping. India, another major emitter, was also not included on the official list of attendees.

Speaking to those gathered, Biden outlined a US-European Union initiative to build on a September 2021 pledge to cut emissions of methane, a planet-warming gas, at least 30 percent below 2020 levels by 2030. More than 100 countries signed onto the plan at the United Nation’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow last year.

The “global methane energy pathway” announced by the US and EU on Friday would require adopting countries to commit to the highest reduction of methane emissions possible by tapping “new technical and financial resources and/or by enhancing domestic project and policy action”.

Washington also planned to spend $21.5bn on large-scale “demonstration projects” – innovative projects to reduce emissions that can be replicated across the world – and urge other countries to chip in to reach a $90bn goal, Biden said.

After last year signing an executive order that mandated that half of all light-duty vehicles sold in the US be zero-emission by 2030, Biden urged the forum to “join us in a similar goal”.

The US president also announced a “challenge” for the upcoming COP27 – created by the US, Norway and Denmark – to encourage governments, ports and cargo owners to come up with concrete steps towards full decarbonisation no later than 2050.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies