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article imageBiden says US will lead way on 'existential' climate crisis

By Issam AHMED (AFP)     Jan 27, 2021 in Environment

President Joe Biden on Wednesday vowed the US would lead the world's charge to confront the "existential threat" of the climate crisis, as he signed a raft of new orders and announced a global summit in April.

The measures included placing a hold on new oil and gas drilling on federal lands and offshore, as the leader of the world's second biggest carbon emitter began making good on his campaign pledges.

"We've already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis," said Biden. "We can't wait any longer. We see it with our own eyes, we feel it. We know it in our bones."

"I'm signing today an executive order to supercharge our administration's ambitious plan to confront the existential threat of climate change," he continued, adding: "We must lead the global response."

Biden has appointed former secretary of state John Kerry as his international climate envoy and said the US will host a Leaders' Climate Summit on April 22, the fifth anniversary of the signing ceremony of the Paris agreement.

The US is expected to announce drastically increased emission goals at the meeting, with the domestic policy push required to get there led by environmental expert Gina McCarthy.

Kerry earlier said the US would be willing to work with China on climate negotiations, despite the two countries' disagreements on other issues ranging from intellectual property theft to South China Sea tensions.

Doomsday Clock 2021
Doomsday Clock 2021
Alain BOMMENEL, AFP

"Those issues will never be traded for anything that has to do with climate, that's not going to happen. But climate is a critical standalone issue that we have to deal on," he said.

Environmental groups applauded the administration for getting the ball rolling on its green promises.

John Morton, former senior director for Energy and Climate Change in Barack Obama's White House who is now at climate advisory firm Pollination, told AFP the actions "should leave no doubt that climate change will be front and center priority throughout this administration."

"Today's announcements herald the leadership we desperately need to tackle environmental injustice and our climate emergency," added Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen.

- 'Millions of jobs' -

The headline domestic policy announcement was the pause on new federal drilling contracts, a politically explosive issue in the election campaign, particularly in the state of Pennsylvania.

Environmental activist Leann Leiter uses an infrared camera to look for invisible emissions from the...
Environmental activist Leann Leiter uses an infrared camera to look for invisible emissions from the Mad Dog 2020 fracking site in Pennsylvania
NICHOLAS KAMM, AFP/File

But Biden also made clear there would be no ban on fracking, which has made the US the world's biggest producer of natural gas and is seen by some as a key transition energy, despite its environmental harms.

Other steps include a pledge to conserve 30 percent of all federal land and water by 2030, and establishing climate considerations as an essential element of US foreign policy and national security.

The administration will also resurrect a presidential council of science advisors, and direct agencies to invest in areas with deep economic ties to fossil fuels, as well as assist communities disproportionately impacted by environmental harm.

A presidential memorandum on scientific integrity meanwhile directs agencies to make decisions guided by the best available evidence.

The federal actions are intended to complement a $2 trillion infrastructure plan the president is expected to pitch to Congress next month, which he promised Wednesday would serve as the engine of future economic growth and "create millions of good paying union jobs."

- Industry backlash -

Climate groups also welcomed the US' decision to re-engage internationally, after climate-denying former president Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Paris agreement.

The Biden administration has drafted an order imposing a moratorium on oil and gas auctions on feder...
The Biden administration has drafted an order imposing a moratorium on oil and gas auctions on federal land and water, according to reports
POOL, GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP

The April 22 summit "sends a positive signal that the Biden administration is serious about working together with the international community" said Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

But she emphasized there was a lot of catching up to do and the world expects ambitious new targets to curb emissions.

Environmentalists have called for the US to set a goal of reducing 2030 emissions by up to 50 percent compared to 2005, as a step towards net zero by mid-century.

The proposals have triggered a backlash from the fossil fuel industry, which has deep ties in particular to the Republican party.

"Restricting development on federal lands and waters is nothing more than an 'import more oil' policy," said American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Mike Sommers.

But Morton said that significant reductions in the price of renewables compared to a few years ago had transformed the energy landscape, making climate action far more politically palatable..

"There's no form of energy production more domestic than solar and wind that shines down and flows across our homeland," he said.

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