Biden’s visit to Sharm el-Sheikh, delayed by the United States midterm elections, lasted only a few hours as he made his way to Cambodia and then to next week’s G20 summit in Indonesia. But it drew cautious receptions from delegates who simultaneously acknowledged the need for U.S. engagement in climate change efforts, while acknowledging that it has not proven to be a reliable partner.
“Veterans of this process will tell you that they have been more than frustrated by many promises that are not backed by finances and deadlines. This time is different,” said Mahmoud Mohieldin, Egypt’s former minister of Investment and United Nations High-Level Champion for Climate Action “We need this political leadership.”
The summit is taking place amid a storm of global challenges – a looming recession, energy and food crises, nations on the brink of default. All of this is happening as climate impacts become more threatening.
That he showed up at all sent a signal that the world’s richest nation – and its biggest climate polluter in the past 200 years – is taking the threat of climate change seriously. It came three months after Biden signed the nation’s toughest climate law, after a generation of failed attempts.
“It’s different now. The United States came up with legislation,” said German climate envoy Jennifer Morgan.
Biden began with a nod to his administration’s “bold” climate agenda, which he launched on his first day in office, and his decision to join the 2015 Paris climate agreement. It prompted applause from the audience, and Biden warmly apologized for his predecessor’s decision to pull the United States out of the landmark climate accord.
He also praised the US Inflation Reduction Act, HR 5376 (117) — the historic spending program of the United States, with $369 billion for climate initiatives. Adoption of this legislation in August almost certain that Biden’s presidency will be remembered as a pivotal time for clean energy investment.
Biden’s speech was an American event in every way. It was clear when the president’s mention of US climate envoy John Kerry received more applause than Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. The guest list, while long, was a select portion of the 46,000 conference delegates. Even UN officials had to request a ticket from the US State Department.
Throughout his 20-minute speech, Biden outlined US plans to invest more in climate adaptation efforts in Africa, help reduce methane emissions, support Egypt’s clean energy transition, and support initiatives to reduce carbon pollution from high-emitting sectors like shipping.
He also vowed to fight for more money to help climate-vulnerable countries build up their defenses against growing climate disasters.
This includes $150 million to help Africa – the most climate-threatened continent in the world – expand early warning systems, expand access to climate finance and boost food security, and a doubling money, $100 million, to fund adaptation globally.
The challenge will be to fight Republicans in his own country who have resisted efforts to pour more money into the fight against climate change in other parts of the world.
“Without Republicans engaging in this debate, we won’t make the progress we need as a country,” the U.S. Representative said. John Curtis of Utah, a rare Republican who supports the fight against climate change.
“Promise whatever he wants”
The world is wearily aware of American divisions. The United States’ contribution to climate finance in developing countries is about $32 billion less than its fair share, according to a metric based on its historical emissions developed by Carbon Brief. Republicans have long refused permission to send more money.
Joining the podium after Biden’s speech, Seyni Nafo, a Malian diplomat who this year brokered a deal with the United States to fund adaptation measures in Africa, said: “As president, he makes all he can. … The president can promise whatever he wants. But it’s Congress that takes ownership.
The money Biden has put on the table pales in comparison to the trillions of dollars needed not just to prevent climate damage, but to pay for it when it occurs.
Compensating the poorest nations for irreparable climate damage is the main issue at this year’s climate negotiations. It has been put on the official agenda for the first time, after years of blockage by wealthy countries that have refused to pay for the damage caused by their broadcasts.
But poorer countries remain suspicious of the United States on the issue known in diplomatic circles as loss and damage. Biden promised to back a G7-led insurance-based initiative that would help countries recover from climate-related damage, but the United States offered no money.
Small island states and other countries whose economies are increasingly threatened by the effects of global warming have called for a dedicated fund that could be earmarked for repairing infrastructure and restoring countries when lives, homes, livelihoods and culture are lost.
Biden acknowledged that his nation has a responsibility to support the poorest countries as they struggle to green their economies, saying that if rich countries can fund coal in developing countries, “there’s no reason why we can’t fund clean energy”.
But many of the poorest and least developed countries say they need a different kind of financing, one that helps them build infrastructure to cope with more extreme storms or invest in drought-resistant agriculture.
“I think there is a genuine desire to recognize that this is a serious concern that can no longer be put on the back burner,” said Aminath Shauna, Maldives’ environment minister.
“I also think the United States is such a powerful partner in global institutions and in global politics that it can make a difference,” she said. “It has come to a point that we can no longer ignore.”
Biden’s confident tone masked the political tensions that lay behind every word of his speech — both at home and among the nations invited to hear him speak.
When passing from his climate law is a victory for the American president, it is bittersweet for some of his closest allies.
“First of all [it’s] a huge contribution to the transition to a sustainable economy in the United States, so we can only welcome that,” the European Union’s chief climate envoy, Frans Timmermans, told reporters on Friday.
But the law’s made-in-America requirements have sent shivers through European industry at a time when it is reeling from the energy crisis. “Sometimes I feel like it’s not seen enough across the Atlantic,” Timmermans said. “They have cheap energy, we have very expensive energy, and it’s really, really hurting our industry and really, really hurting our households.”
The Conservative Climate Caucus – a group of Republican members of Congress – organized an event to present an alternative, more industry-friendly vision for tackling climate change. representing Attic graves of Louisiana said the plan accepts the “facts” that demand for oil and gas around the world will continue to grow. Two weeks ago, the International Energy Agency said demand for all fossil fuels would peak this decade.
Biden also brought contradictions over fossil fuels with him to COP27. His speech was interrupted by a group of Native Americans protesting against the American oil and gas industry. The president had spoken of the important role indigenous landowners play in protecting nature, but as the group left the venue through security, one said: “President Biden says indigenous peoples have the answers, but he refuses to listen to the aboriginal people. people.”
“He’s our president,” said another. “We don’t know when we’ll be in a room with someone like that again.”
Then they were taken out into the desert night and Air Force One took the president away to deal with other pressing global issues.