Biden’s fossil fuel hypocrisy is betraying the planet

If the world is to phase out fossil fuels in time to prevent a climate catastrophe, the US president needs to put his money where his mouth is.

Joe Biden
While the president's rhetoric aligns with global climate promises, his administration has approved massive fossil fuel projects, writes Rosenbluth [File: Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP Pool]

Ahead of its Climate Ambition Summit in September, the United Nations is calling on global leaders to phase out fossil fuels. US President Joe Biden is painfully falling behind on this agenda and must urgently get back on track to maintain any credibility in these climate discussions.

As we suffer through extreme heat in the US and across the globe, President Biden has been protecting fossil fuel profits instead of people. From the Willow Project in Alaska to Gulf LNG exports, Biden props up dangerous oil and gas projects and the corporations that value their bottom line over our future. It has to stop.

The latest reports from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show that maintaining a 50 percent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 degrees Fahrenheit) requires an immediate end to investments in new coal, oil and gas production and hazardous liquified fossil gas (LNG) infrastructure.

These findings remain unchanged in the context of the war in Ukraine and its impact on global energy markets, and as last year’s World Energy Outlook said: “No one should imagine that Russia’s invasion can justify a wave of new oil and gas infrastructure in a world that wants to reach net zero emissions by 2050.”

President Biden’s approach to the climate crisis is nothing short of hypocritical. While the president’s rhetoric aligns with global climate promises, his administration has approved massive fossil fuel projects.

Of all countries in the world, the United States is the world’s top oil and gas producer and exporter, and is planning the largest expansion in oil and gas production over the next decade. This year alone, Biden approved the Willow oil project in Alaska and multiple LNG export facilities, and his administration put its support behind the Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline, skipping important permitting processes meant to protect people and the environment, betraying communities and his voters.

President Biden has even backed policies that gut bedrock environmental laws that protect communities from fossil fuel pollution.

At the United Nations COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, President Biden joined 38 other countries and financial institutions in promising to end international public finance for fossil fuels by the end of 2022 and to instead prioritise public finance for clean energy. At the G7 leader’s summit in 2021, a near-identical commitment was adopted, bringing Japan, one of the world’s largest fossil financiers, onboard, and this year the G7 committed to report on progress by the end of 2023. If the United States followed through on its promise, they could shift  $3.7bn annually out of fossil fuels on average, increasing their international renewable energy public finance by five times.

But instead of keeping its commitment, the Biden administration continues to approve new public funding for fossil fuel expansion abroad. While Canada, the United Kingdom, and France have published policies keeping their promises to stop international funding for fossil fuels, the United States has refused to publish a policy.

In May, the Biden administration approved almost $100m in export finance for expanding an Indonesian oil refinery, neglecting the agreed end of 2022 deadline for ending such support. Just a month ago, the US development finance corporation (DFC) pledged half a billion dollars to support LNG imports in Poland and gas infrastructure in South Africa. Most recently in July, the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) – the official export credit agency of the US – insured $400m in revolving credit facilities for global commodities trader Trafigura, allowing them to purchase liquefied natural gas (LNG) from US exporters to sell primarily to European buyers. And more is on the docket – the United States is currently considering export finance for a controversial LNG project in Papua New Guinea.

The US breaking its promise is particularly unhelpful now that a huge diplomatic opportunity is opening up to advance oil and gas export finance restrictions at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

More than half of OECD countries, including the United States, signed onto the COP26 commitment to end international public finance for fossil fuels, creating strong foundations for a progressive member to table a proposal for oil and gas restrictions and kick off negotiations on the topic. This is an urgent matter. OECD members still provide $41bn annually in export support to fossil fuel projects, five times their clean energy support.

Ironically, the United States was the country championing efforts to secure OECD coal finance restrictions back in 2015. Now it risks being an obstacle rather than a leader at the OECD.

At a time when we must rapidly and equitably phase out fossil fuels, it is alarming to see Biden consistently breaking their climate commitments and pushing for the global expansion of LNG and oil, as well as holding back progress at the UNSG Climate Ambition Summit and the OECD. Every new fossil fuel project is incompatible with a liveable future.

As the world’s biggest historic polluter, the United States has a responsibility to lead a global just transition away from fossil fuels. Biden can make the choice to lead this moment and succeed. Voters will not ignore Biden’s disastrous climate track record unless he starts keeping his climate promises and paves the way for a cleaner, safer and more equitable future with cheaper energy bills and good jobs.

We call on President Biden to fulfil his duty to the American people, the international community, and communities whose lives and wellbeing are impacted by the dirty fossil fuel projects he has been backing. On Sunday, September 17 people will be marching through New York City with these demands at the UNSG Climate Ambition Summit. It’s time for Biden to listen to our voices and end the era of fossil fuels.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.