Nov 1, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Biden sells hope in remarks at COP26 climate summit

Biden speaks in Glasgow today.
Biden speaks in Glasgow today. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden's delivery at the COP26 climate summit today wasn't especially lively, but his words were heavy on hope.

What they're saying: "The American people, four or five years ago, weren't at all sure about climate change," Biden said. "Well they have, as they say in southern parts of my state, seen the Lord. ... They're now finally — finally, finally, finally — realizing the sense of urgency that you all are."

Axios' Ben Geman's quick take: Some of the president's passages were aimed straight at a U.S. audience, and some at the rest of the world.

  • Biden pitched climate change to Americans as a huge opening for jobs. And he tried to assure other nations that action on U.S. emissions-cutting pledges are a fait accompli, not just rhetoric.
  • His Hill package is stuffed with huge new climate and clean energy investments and incentives. He came close to calling it a done deal, even though Democratic leaders are still wrangling votes.

Reality check: The backdrop is far from ideal for Biden.

  • Look who's not here: Xi Jinping of China, which is by far the world's biggest carbon emitter.
  • Xi's snub — he's providing a written statement, not even video remarks — is a big deal, especially after China's refusal last week to speed emissions cutbacks.
  • Biden steered clear of mentioning China today. But he didn't hide his pique at the G20 economic summit in Rome, noting at yesterday's press conference that China and Russia "basically didn’t show up in terms of any commitments."

The bottom line: Even a strong deal at the UN summit would be absolutely no guarantee that nations follow through with action.

  • But with steep cuts nowhere in evidence yet, Paris Agreement goals could grow even less attainable if the talks sputter.
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