President Joe Biden aimed his harshest criticism at Russia and China on Sunday ahead of participation at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26.
Speaking in a prepared address following a meeting of the G20 in Rome, Mr Biden touted his own administration’s efforts to spend billions of dollars on climate change resilience efforts in his Build Back Better infrastructure plan. The legislation also plans around $235 billion for clean energy incentives.
“I believe we made tangible progress…in part because the commitment the United States brought to the table,” said the president.
“I’m proud to announce…another critical win for both American workers and the climate agenda: The United States and the European Union have agreed to negotiate the world’s first trade agreement based on how much carbon is in a product,” he continued.
When asked by reporters about statements from climate activists labeling the commitments at COP26 a disappointment, as they are far below what experts say is needed to avert warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius, Mr Biden demurred to blamed two of the world’s largest economies for not making new emissions pledges of their own.
Beijing has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2060, which activists say is too little too late from the country responsible for more than a fourth of all carbon emissions. The Biden administration set a goal of making the US energy grid powered exclusively by “100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity” by 2035, but it is not yet clear how or if the US will meet that target.
“Russia and… China basically didn’t show up in terms of any commitments to deal with climate,” charged Mr Biden on Sunday, adding: “[T]here’s a reason why people should be disappointed in that. I found it disappointing myself.”
China’s foreign ministry has not yet responded to the US president’s remarks.
During his address, the president also hailed the G20’s commitment to a global minimum tax to fight corporate tax-dodging, and hailed efforts to coax Iran’s government back into regular negotiations over its nuclear program.
Much of Mr Biden’s climate plan is yet to pass Congress, which is still debating both his smaller hard infrastructure package and larger social safety net bill, which together contain billions in tax incentives for various clean energy forms. Many other climate-related parts were stripped from the bill due to resistance from conservative Democrats such as Sen Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Experts have said that pledges to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 are needed to avert the worst effects of climate change, which is expected to lead to more severe weather and climate-related phenomena including wildfires, droughts, and floods.
“Governments must respond to the deadly warnings the planet is giving us and cut emissions drastically right now, to stay in line with 1.5C, and that requires stopping any new fossil fuel development and phase them out,” Jennifer Morgan, director of Greenpeace International, said in a statement on Sunday.
“We need to stop all new fossil fuel projects immediately. Governments must reduce emissions at home and stop shifting that responsibility to more vulnerable communities, through carbon offsetting schemes that compromise their livelihoods,” added Ms Morgan.