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Seth Borenstein, Associated Press
Seth Borenstein, Associated Press
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President Joe Biden emphasized the quickly closing window of opportunity to address global warming — and the mounting costs of delaying that action — in his opening remarks at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, on Monday.
Watch President Joe Biden’s remarks in the player above.
To implement policies that will limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C, the next 10 years will have to be a “decade of ambition and innovation to preserve our shared future,” he said.
He also said that climate change’s impact on people’s livelihoods, particularly when it comes to increasing severe weather events like floods and droughts, is a “moral and economic imperative.”
“We can create an environment that raises the standard of living around the world… It’s in the self-interest of every single nation,” Biden said. “And this is a chance, in my view, to make a generational investment in our economic resilience and in our workers and our communities throughout the world.”
Biden touted his domestic Build Back Better plan, which he said would focus on investing in clean energy, dramatically reducing carbon emissions and creating “good-paying union jobs.” He announced that he’d be releasing the United States’ long-term strategy for combating climate change and achieving the goal of “net-zero emissions economy wide by 2050,” as well as a new plan to “implement the global goal of adaptation,” which includes America’s “first-ever contribution to the adaptation fund.”
WATCH: Britain’s Prince Charles gives statement at COP26 climate summit in Glasgow
The president acknowledged that larger, wealthier countries are disproportionately responsible for generating the emissions that have contributed to climate change, and that those nations are therefore obligated to support developing ones in their effort to grapple with the consequences of warming.
“[This is] the challenge of our collective lifetimes, the threat to human existence as we know it. And every day we delay, the cost of inaction increases,” Biden said. “So let this be the moment that we answer history’s call. Let this be the start of a decade of transformative action that preserves our planet and raises the quality of life for people everywhere.”
Biden was speaking at the world leaders’ summit portion of a U.N. climate conference, which is aimed at getting agreement to curb carbon emissions fast enough to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) below pre-industrial levels. The world has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit). Current projections based on planned emissions cuts over the next decade are for it to hit 2.7C (4.9F) by the year 2100.
Biden is among scores of other leaders who will traipse to the podium Monday and Tuesday at crucial international climate talks in Scotland and talk about what their country is going to do about the threat of global warming. They are expected to say how their nation will do its utmost, challenge colleagues to do more and generally turn up the rhetoric.
The biggest names, including Biden, Britain’s Boris Johnson, India’s Narendra Modi, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Ibrahim Solih, president of hard hit Maldives, will take the stage Monday.
And then the leaders will leave.
The idea is that they will do the big political give-and-take, setting out broad outlines of agreement, and then have other government officials hammer out the nagging but crucial details. That’s what worked to make the historic 2015 Paris climate deal a success, former U.N. Climate Secretary Christiana Figueres told The Associated Press.
“For heads of state, it is actually a much better use of their strategic thinking,” Figueres said.
In Paris, the two signature goals — the 1.5-degree Celsius limit and net zero carbon emissions by 2050 — were created by this leaders-first process, Figueres said. In the unsuccessful 2009 Copenhagen meeting the leaders swooped in at the end.
Thousands lined up in a chilly wind in the Scottish city of Glasgow on Monday to get through a bottleneck at the entrance to the venue. But what will be noticeable are a handful of major absences at the summit known as COP26.
Xi Jinping, president of top carbon-polluting nation China, won’t be in Glasgow. Figueres said his absence isn’t that big a deal because he isn’t leaving the country during the pandemic and his climate envoy is a veteran negotiator.
Biden, however, has chided China and Russia for their less than ambitious efforts to curb emissions and blamed them for a disappointing G-20 statement on climate change.
Perhaps more troublesome for the U.N. summit is the absence of several small nations from the Pacific islands that couldn’t make it because of COVID-19 restrictions and logistics. That’s a big problem because their voices relay urgency, Figueres said.
In addition, the heads of several major emerging economies beyond China are also skipping the summit, including those from Russia, Turkey, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa. That leaves India’s Modi the only leader present from the so-called BRICS nations, which account for more than 40 percent of global emissions.
Kevin Conrad, a negotiator from Papua New Guinea who also chairs the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, said he’s watching the big carbon-polluting nations. “I think it’s really important for the United States and China to show leadership as the two largest emitters. If both of them can show it can be done, I think they give hope to the rest of the world,” he said.
The amount of energy unleashed by such warming would melt much of the planet’s ice, raise global sea levels and greatly increase the likelihood and intensity of extreme weather, experts say.
But before the U.N. climate summit, the G-20 leaders, at the close of their meeting, offered vague climate pledges instead of commitments of firm action, saying they would seek carbon neutrality “by or around mid-century.” The countries also agreed to end public financing for coal-fired power generation abroad, but set no target for phasing out coal domestically — a clear nod to China and India.
The G-20 countries represent more than three-quarters of the world’s climate-damaging emissions and summit host Italy, and Britain, which is hosting the Glasgow conference, had been hoping for more ambitious targets coming out of Rome.
India, the world’s third-biggest emitter, has yet to follow China, the U.S. and the European Union in setting a target for reaching “net zero” emissions. Negotiators are hoping Modi will announce such a goal in Glasgow.
The Biden administration has tried hard to temper expectations that two weeks of climate talks will produce major breakthroughs on cutting climate-damaging emissions.
Rather than a quick fix, “Glasgow is the beginning of this decade race, if you will,” Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, told reporters Sunday.
Associated Press writers Frank Jordans and Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to this report.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Bella Isaacs-Thomas is a digital reporter on the PBS NewsHour's science desk.
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