United States President Joe Biden tried to hammer out the world’s next steps against rapidly worsening climate change in a private, virtual session with a small group of other global leaders.
Biden announced on Friday a new US-European pledge to cut climate-wrecking methane leaks.
Ever-grimmer findings from scientists this year that the world is nearing the point where the level of climate damage from burning oil, gas and coal becomes catastrophic and irreversible “represent a code red for humanity,” Biden said at the session’s outset.
“We have to act and we have to act now,” Biden said.
The White House provided a transcript of the president’s opening remarks from the otherwise private talks.
Biden cited his trips earlier this month to California, where firefighters are battling larger, fiercer and deadlier wildfires almost year round as temperatures rise and drought worsens, and to the northeastern US and Gulf Coast, where Hurricane Ida and its flooding killed scores, as natural disasters increase in number and severity under climate change.
Biden evoked the “damage and destruction” he had seen in the US, massive flooding in Europe and other global damage from the warming climate.
UN warns of ‘catastrophic’ global warming
The event came as the United Nations released a report projecting a “catastrophic” rise of 2.7C in temperature by the end of the century “unless actions are taken immediately”.
“This is breaking the promise made six years ago to pursue the 1.5-degree Celsius goal of the Paris Agreement,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement commenting on the report. “Failure to meet this goal will be measured in the massive loss of lives and livelihoods.”
The Biden administration, which rejoined the Paris Agreement that former President Donald Trump exited, billed Friday’s meeting as a chance for some of the world leaders to strategise how to achieve big, fast cuts in climate-wrecking petroleum and coal emissions.
The administration also is trying to re-establish the United States’ Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, a climate group set up by President Barack Obama and revived by Biden, as a significant platform for international climate negotiations.
Friday’s meeting followed a much bigger virtual White House climate summit in April that saw scores of heads of governments – representing allies and rivals, and big economies and small – making sweeping speeches about the need for action against climate change.
The list provided of Friday’s attendees included only a dozen leaders: those of Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, the European Commission, the European Council, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United Nations.
China, India and Russia, with the United States, are the nations that emit the most climate-damaging gases from the production and burning of oil, natural gas and coal.
There was no word on their leaders taking part. However, the White House said in a statement that Biden had directed his climate envoy, John Kerry, to lead a minister-level climate session afterwards with China, Germany, India and Russia. It gave no other immediate details.
Climate advocates have stressed the importance of the US coordinating with Europe and Asia for a joint front in coaxing China, which emits more climate-damaging fumes than the rest of the developed world combined, to move faster on cutting its use of dirty-burning coal-fired power plants in particular.
Biden also discussed a new US push with the European Union and others aiming to launch a “global methane pledge” to cut emissions of methane by 30 percent by the end of this decade.
Methane is one of the most potent agents of climate damage, gushing up by the tonne from countless uncapped oil and gas rigs, leaky natural gas pipelines, and other oil and gas facilities.
“This will not only rapidly reduce the rate of global warming, but it will also produce a very valuable side benefit, like improving public health and agricultural output,” Biden said.
Fred Krupp, president of the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund, said cutting methane pollution is the single fastest, most effective strategy to slow the rate of warming.
A 30 percent reduction in methane pollution should be only “the entry point for this critical conversation. Many countries can and should aim even higher,” Krupp told the Associated Press news agency.
The pledge comes as the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to propose stricter rules against methane emissions for the oil and gas sector, as laid out in one of Biden’s first executive orders.
The new rules, expected in the next two weeks, are likely to be stricter than an Obama-era standard set in 2016. The Obama standard was reinstated in June after Congress took the unusual step of invalidating a Trump-era EPA rollback of methane protections.
The pending EPA rule is expected to restrict methane emissions from new and existing wells, including hundreds of thousands of older wells that are not subject to federal regulation under current law.
Friday’s session precedes a major UN climate summit in Glasgow in November. “We have to bring to Glasgow our highest possible ambitions. Those that have not yet done so, time is running out,” Biden said.