Biden apologises for Trump climate actions at Cop26 conference

US President Joe Biden speaks at the opening ceremony for the Cop26 summit at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow.
US President Joe Biden speaks at the opening ceremony for the Cop26 summit at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow.

President Joe Biden said that the climate actions taken now will be crucial to preventing future generations from suffering.

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President Joe Biden has acknowledged that the US and other developed nations bear much of the responsibility for climate change, and said actions taken this decade to contain global warming will be decisive in preventing future generations from suffering.

“None of us can escape the worst that is yet to come if we fail to seize this moment,” Mr Biden declared at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.

The president treated the already visible crisis for the planet – flooding, volatile weather, droughts and wildfires – as a unique opportunity to reinvent the global economy.

Standing before world leaders gathered at the UN climate summit in Scotland, he sought to portray the enormous costs of limiting carbon emissions as a chance to create jobs by transitioning to renewable energy and electric vehicles.

US President Joe Biden speaks at the opening ceremony for the Cop26 summit at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow.
US President Joe Biden speaks at the opening ceremony for the Cop26 summit at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow.

Yet he also apologised for former president Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement and the role the US and other wealthy countries played in contributing to climate change.

“Those of us who are responsible for much of the deforestation and all of the problems we have so far,” Mr Biden said, have “overwhelming obligations” to the poorer nations that account for few of the emissions yet are paying a price as the planet has grown hotter.

As for Mr Trump’s action, he said: “I shouldn’t apologise, but I do apologise for the fact the United States, the last administration, pulled out of the Paris Accords and put us sort of behind the eight ball a little bit.”

The magnitude of the moment is crashing head-first into complicated global and domestic politics.

Biden administration officials have scolded China for failing to commit more to curbing carbon emissions, while the president is still trying to nail down his own climate investments with Congress.

The summit is often billed as essential to putting into action the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord, which Mr Biden rejoined after becoming president this year.

The Trump administration largely withdrew from hands-on diplomacy, such that part of Mr Biden’s efforts at the climate summit and the gathering of the G20 nations in Rome this weekend was to re-establish the US as a partner.

But Mr Biden and his administration face obstacles in prodding the US and other nations to act fast enough on climate, both abroad and at home.

In the run-up to the summit, the administration has tried hard to temper expectations that two weeks of talks involving more than 100 world leaders 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”, Mr Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry said.

As the summit opens, the United States is still struggling to get some of the world’s biggest climate polluters – China, Russia and India – to join the US and its allies in stronger pledges to burn far less coal, gas and oil and to move to cleaner energy.

Also on Monday, the Biden administration released its strategy for turning talk into reality in transforming the US into an entirely clean energy nation by 2050.

The long-term plan, filed in compliance with the Paris agreement, lays out a United States increasingly running on wind, solar and other clean energy, Americans zipping around in electric vehicles and on mass transit, state-of-the-art technology and wide open spaces carefully preserved to soak up carbon dioxide from the air.

The Biden administration has succeeded, over 10 months of diplomacy leading up to the Glasgow summit, in helping win significant new climate pledges from allies.

That includes persuading many foreign governments to set more ambitious targets for emissions cuts, promoting a global pledge to cut emissions of a potent climate harm, methane, and the promise from leading economies to end funding for coal energy abroad.

Neither Russian President Vladimir Putin nor Chinese President Xi Jinping is attending the Glasgow summit, although they are sending senior officials.

Their refusals, and India’s, to move substantially faster to cut their reliance on coal and petroleum threaten to frustrate hopes of reaching the target cuts set in the Paris climate accord.

China under Mr Xi has firmed up commitments to cut emissions but at a slower pace than the US has encouraged.