World leaders welcomed the formal return of the United States to the Paris climate agreement on Friday, but President Joe Biden is facing politically trickier measures, including setting a challenging national target for reducing toxic fossil fuel emissions in the coming months.
And even as Biden acknowledged the country’s first day back in the climate deal, the dangerous warming of the globe was just one of a long list of urgent problems he posed on Friday, one month into his presidency, in a video speech to European leaders. He tackled the global pandemic, sputtering national economies and strained ties with China before addressing climate problems, among other issues that threaten to obstruct and postpone tackling the nation’s position as the world’s top carbon polluter after China.
We can no longer delay or do the bare minimum to tackle climate change, Biden said, amid all the other obstacles, speaking to the Munich Security Conference. This is a global existential problem, and if we fail, we will all suffer.
On his first day in office, Biden signed an executive order repealing the pullout ordered by President Donald Trump. Trump said shortly after he took office that he would initiate the process of taking the U.S. out of the Paris agreement, but because of the clauses of the agreement, it did not take effect until Nov. 4, 2020.
The United States was formally out of the 2015 global warming pact for 107 days only. It was part of the withdrawal of Trump from global allegiances in general and his often-stated but false view that the scientists of the world were laughably mistaken about global warming.
More generally, Trump overturned Obama-era efforts to reign in oil, gas and coal emissions and opened up mining and fracking for new federal lands and waters. Biden is seeking to undo these initiatives and has also vowed a $2 trillion remake of U.S. power grids, transportation networks and other facilities to slash fossil fuel emissions sharply.
While the return of Friday is highly symbolic, world leaders say they expect America to prove that the cause is serious. They are especially anxious for the United States to announce its new national 2030 target for reducing emissions of fossil fuels, which scientists believe will change the atmosphere of the Earth and intensify the extremes of drought, hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday that the official reentry of the United States “is very important in itself,” as is Biden’s declaration that, as promised in 2009, the United States will return to providing climate assistance to poorer nations.
“It’s not a matter of how many days. “The political symbolism is that the largest economy refuses to see the opportunity to tackle climate change,” said Christiana Figueres, former climate chief of the United Nations. In hammering out the largely voluntary 2015 agreement in which nations set their own targets to mitigate greenhouse gases, she was one of the leading powers.
One concern was that in abandoning the climate war, other nations would join America, but none did, Figueres said. She said four years of climate inaction by the Trump administration was the real problem. American cities, states and corporations, but without the intervention of the federal government, were also trying to eliminate heat-trapping carbon dioxide.
“We lost too much time,” said Figueres.
Inger Andersen, director of the United Nations Environment Program, said America needs to prove its leadership to the rest of the world, but she said she has no doubt it will do so when it submits its targets for emissions reductions.
We hope that they will translate into a very substantial reduction in emissions, and they will be an example to be followed by other countries,” said Guterres.”
The administration of Biden is now working on a target that combines major emissions cuts with political and financial realities. By April, when Biden prepares to host world leaders for an Earth Day summit, agreeing on a U.S. carbon objective will help the administration prod other countries for aggressive emissions cuts as well. “John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, said Friday that spring meeting should see countries start “to put the down payments on the table.
Republican leaders are fighting against it already.
Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the Senate Energy Panel’s top Republican, attacked Biden for rejoining the Paris Agreement, tweeting: “Returning to the Paris climate agreement will raise the cost of energy for Americans and will not solve climate change.” The Biden administration would set unworkable U.S. targets, while China and Russia will be able to continue business as normal.
University of Maryland environmental professor Nate Hultman, who served on the official Paris aim of the Obama administration, said he expects a target of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent to 50 percent from the baseline levels of 2005 by 2030.
A long-standing international goal, included with an even more stringent goal in the Paris agreement, is to keep warming from pre-industrial times below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Since that time, the earth has already warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit).
The return of the United States to the Paris agreement and an ambitious target for emission cuts would make it much more likely to restrict warming “to well below 2 degrees, not just to 2 degrees but below 2 degrees,” said climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, the Breakthrough Institute’s energy and climate director.