Biden Urges World Leaders to Cut Methane as Pledges Fall Short
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden told world leaders “the time is now” to accelerate efforts to slash greenhouse gases as he formally unveiled a new initiative to pare global methane emissions by 30% before the end of the decade.
The pledge, designed in concert with the European Union, would be the first coordinated international effort to reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that emanates from fossil fuels and agriculture and has an outsized impact on global warming.
Biden convened Friday’s virtual meeting with the other nations as international leaders soberly warned that global carbon-cutting commitments and climate funding for poor nations is lagging far behind what is necessary to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of global warming. Concern is building before a pivotal United Nations summit in six weeks.
“We know there’s still a lot of work to do and if anything, our job, in my view, has grown more urgent,” Biden said Friday during the session.
Developed countries have made almost no progress toward a 2009 pledge to deliver $100 billion a year to help poor countries tackle climate change, according to newly released figures. That includes the U.S., which has pledged less than a quarter of what the EU has already provided in funding to help developing and climate-vulnerable nations protect tropical forests, build resilience and shift to clean energy.
Separately, the UN warned that countries’ current emissions-cutting commitments provide only a limited opportunity to avoid catastrophic global warming. Under countries’ existing pledges, global temperatures could rise by about 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. That’s well beyond a critical 1.5-degree threshold seen key to staving off the worst impacts of climate change.
The U.S.-led discussions took place as the White House concedes its biggest challenge has been persuading nations to bring a sense of urgency and plans for concrete actions to the summit in Scotland, according to a senior U.S. official who requested anonymity to preview the closed-door meeting.
Biden said the methane pledge -- which seeks the 30% cut compared to 2020 baseline levels -- was “ambitious yet realistic.”
“We have to bring to Glasgow our highest possible ambitions,” Biden said. “Those who have not yet done so: Time is running out.”
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who also attended the virtual meeting, said his country -- which is serving as host to the Glasgow summit -- would be among the first signatories to the methane pledge, calling the effort “a microcosm of the challenges we face.”
“The world could slash its output of this powerful greenhouse gas tomorrow if we wanted to,” Johnson said. “But the trouble is that the G20 currently lacks both the ambition needed do so, and the offer of finance to developing nations that’s needed to follow suit. That, in a nutshell, is what we face with the whole climate conundrum.”
And Biden’s cajoling comes as he himself is struggling to deliver substantial progress toward reversing climate trends. He spent much of the past week attempting to convince reluctant Democratic lawmakers to support social spending and infrastructure proposals that the White House has portrayed as crucial to his climate campaign amid worries about inflation and spiraling deficits.
The White House sought to downplay expectations for Friday’s session, saying it did not expect countries to publicly announce or commit to new agreements coming out of the discussion. Unlike the public meeting Biden convened in April that saw participation from 40 world leaders, including China’s Xi Jinping, Friday’s gathering included only a smattering of world leaders, including Johnson, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and Korean President Moon Jae-In. All told, the heads of nine countries, the UN, EU and the European Council attended the meeting.
Not participating was French President Emmanuel Macron, amid the growing diplomatic spat between the U.S. and France over a deal between Washington and Australia to help Australia deploy nuclear-powered submarines.
China, Germany, India and Russia had their environmental ministers participate in the discussion, and Biden asked his climate envoy, John Kerry, to hold an additional ministerial session with them following the summit. The nations are among the biggest focus of U.S. diplomatic efforts on climate commitments.
The U.S. is hoping the impending global summit could spur action from recalcitrant nations.
“If we do what’s required, global temperatures will stabilize in just a couple of decades,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the forum. “We can avert the worst potential consequences of the crisis. That’s our charge now.”
International climate finance was drawing scrutiny Friday, amid a growing clamor for the U.S. and other wealthy nations responsible for the bulk of global warming to commit to spending more money helping developing countries.
Nearly 100 U.S. environmental, business and faith groups on Wednesday warned that “U.S. climate finance contributions are significantly behind that of other countries, which risks undercutting American efforts to maintain global influence.”
The investments are seen as critical to driving more ambitious climate pledges at the summit in Glasgow from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12. Leaders of Indonesia, Brazil and other nations made clear during Biden’s last big climate forum, in April, that their own greenhouse gas cuts should be explicitly tied to aid from richer nations.
Biden in April pledged $5.7 billion in climate finance annually by 2024, but environmental activists have called for the U.S. to make an immediate $3.3 billion down payment and another $8 billion by 2030.
The EU has already provided nearly four times as much as the U.S has pledged in climate finance -- and that gulf is set to grow with the bloc’s announcement Wednesday it would contribute an additional 4 billion Euros ($4.7 billion).
Assets ‘Technically Stranded’
Some of the world’s poorest and most climate vulnerable countries are expected to float a proposal in the coming days that would allow them to use emergency debt restructuring to free up money budgeted to pay back richer nations for previous spending, and instead use that money on climate resilience projects.
“The money that they took in loans was to build roads and bridges, housing projects, schools, hospitals, infrastructure of all sorts of types. And that infrastructure is now under stress because of the extreme weather,” said former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, who serves as ambassador to the Climate Vulnerable Forum. “And therefore, the assets created by the loans are now technically stranded, in some cases to the extent that we might not have an island or a currency. So it’s hardly possible for us to pay the debt when our countries are not around.”
Biden did not address the issue of climate finance directly during his public remarks, but alluded to “mobilizing support to help developing countries join pledge to do something significant.”
The U.S. president also said he planed to convene a leader-level summit specifically on the issue of protecting the world’s oceans in the coming months.
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