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Joe Biden at COP26: Five things you need to know

Joe Biden has spent the past two days at COP26 in Glasgow.


Adrian Dennis – Pool/Getty Images

President Joe Biden spoke of the work that lies ahead as he joined his fellow world leaders for key climate talks at COP26, the UN summit taking place in Glasgow, Scotland, this week.

The summit marks a key moment in the world’s fight to control the climate crisis and ensure global temperatures don’t rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, the commitment set forth in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Around the world, people are feeling the impacts of climate change spurred by human activity, including in the US, where forest fires, floods, hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

Biden arrived in Scotland Monday morning after traveling from the G-20 talks in Rome to discuss how the US will assume its responsibilities as a developed country and the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Like all leaders at the summit, he turned up with an agenda of his own.

Here are the key things about his trip you need to know about his two days in Glasgow:

The US is still apologizing for leaving the Paris Agreement

The US has come to the climate talks still reeling from President Donald Trump withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Trump announced his intent to withdraw in 2017, and it took affect last year. 

Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement on his first day in office — a point that he and his team have mentioned several times during the summit so far. Biden also recognized in his speech during the opening of the World Leaders Summit on Monday that the US withdrawal was a setback in the fight against the climate crisis.

“I do apologize for the fact the United States, in the last administration, pulled out of the Paris Accords and put us sort of behind the eight ball a little bit,” Biden said on Monday.

He seems determined to fix this. When Biden made rejoining the Paris Agreement his priority, he set the tone for his entire administration. Speaking Monday at an event at the US Center at the summit, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry noted that, by the president’s mandate, no decision can be made unless the climate impacts have been considered.

Biden’s climate agenda at home is focused on jobs

Biden recognized that the American people haven’t always been sure whether climate change is real. When presenting his plan for tackling the climate crisis to people in the US, he will frame it around jobs, he said Monday.

“It’s about workers who will lay thousands of miles of transmission lines of clean, modern, resilient power grid,” Biden told the other world leaders. “The autoworkers who will build the next generation of electric vehicles and electricians who will install a nationwide network of 500,000 vehicle stations to power them throughout my country. The engineers who will design new carbon capture systems, and the construction workers who will make them a reality. The farmers who will not only help fight global hunger but also use the soil to fight climate change.”

But his home turf is perhaps where Biden faces his biggest climate challenge, as many doubt whether he’ll have the support to needed to pass legislation that’s designed to shape the country’s green future.

Biden came to COP26 with a couple key catchphrases

Improving jobs and infrastructure is all part of Biden’s “Build Back Better” project, to which he’s managed to sign on all the leaders of the G-7 countries.

Barely a speech went by without him mentioning “Build Back Better,” along with the phrase “decisive decade.” The decade refers to the next 10 years, during which the US has promised to meet some key climate targets.

Biden came to Glasgow with the stated aim of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by a gigaton by 2030. The US is one of the world’s biggest emitters of methane. But it’s also now one of more than 90 countries to sign up to the COP26 methane pledge, which is a joint commitment to reduce the world’s emissions 30% from 2020 levels by 2030.

It sounds like the decisive decade will also be a busy one.

The US wants to lead by example…

Even though the US hasn’t been a climate leader in recent years, Biden hopes to change that. “We’ll demonstrate to the world the United States is not only back at the table but hopefully leading by the power of our example,” he said.

As well as the short-term goals, Biden used COP26 to unveil the country’s overall long-term strategy, laying out how the US is going to get to net-zero emissions by 2050. Working out how to reach this target is a key aim of the summit, and the US is one of many countries that has committed to working toward it.

Before he headed back to the US on Tuesday evening, the president said of the summit: “I can’t think of any two days where more has been accomplished dealing with climate than the past two days.”

…while acknowledging it has more to do than others

Biden’s efforts geared toward helping developing nations recognize that they’re suffering due to a crisis they did not create.

“Those of us who have deforested a long time ago, those of us who have taken actions a long time ago that caused the problems, we have to be ready to step up for everyone from Tanzania to Fiji,” said Biden.

He wants Americans to know, he added, that the country has a responsibility to step up when it comes to financing those countries that “have not had the opportunity to do as much damage as we have.”

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