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“We’re blinking code red,” President Biden looks to put the US back at center of climate change fight

Oliver Weiken/picture alliance via Getty Images

(GLASGOW, Scotland.) — COP26 is underway with President Biden looking to put the United States back at the center of the global effort on climate change.

After leading the globe with the signing of the Paris Climate Accords, a groundbreaking climate agreement changed signed by nearly 200 countries during the Obama presidency, The United States took a step back when President Trump was in office. The former president pulled the United States out of the Paris agreement, removed clean water protections, and opened up federal land for gas and oil drilling. 

President Biden has put climate change at the center of his domestic agenda and foreign policy and has re-entered the Paris agreement. The president has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, and the president’s human infrastructure bill would put $555 billion toward clean energy and climate investments. 

Climate experts say that may not be enough. 

“We do need to find a way to increase our ambition in the US,” said Radley Horton, a climate scientist at Columbia University. “People are looking to the US. Historically, the US has been responsible for an outsized share per capita of greenhouse gas emissions.”

President Biden will sit down with world leaders at COP26, but he will not be able to sit down with the leaders of two high-pollution, China and Russia. Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be participating virtually, citing the Covid situation in each country. 

The goal of COP26 is to set new targets for cutting emissions to limit warming to 1.5 degrees celsius and recommitting to help developing nations tackle climate change. 

“Responsibility rests with each and every country, and we must all play our part. Because on climate, the world will succeed, or fail, as one,” said Alok Sharma, President of COP 26, during a recent speech. 

Climate activists are calling for immediate, large-scale action to cut emissions and reverse global warming trends.

“They need to show they’ve understood the science, listen to their people and go much further than they’ve been stating thus far,” said Jennifer Morgan, the executive director of Greenpeace International.

World leaders hope to build on the 2015 Paris agreement when they pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit the warming of the planet to below 2 degrees Celsius, the number scientists say is needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change. 

But experts say the commitments are inadequate. 

“It’s been estimated that very few countries, just a handful, had large enough ambitious enough targets, to begin with,“ said Horton. 

A recent analysis by the United Nations found that even if nations meet their current promises, the planet will still be on pace to see an average temperature increase of 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. The UN Emissions Gap report found that current commitments will only reduce greenhouse gases by 7.5% by 2030 when 55% percent is needed to achieve the Paris goal. 

“The climate crisis is pummeling the planet,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said during his speech at the UN General assembly. 

Climate activists say the Glasgow Summit needs to produce significant actions and not just rhetoric from world leaders. 

“All we hear from our so-called leaders is words — words that sound great but so far has led to no action,” said teen activist Greta Thunberg, during the Youth4Climate conference in Milan, Italy earlier this month. “Our hopes and dreams drown in their empty words and promises.”

The United States has seen the effects of climate change first hand this year. Nearly every part of the country has seen record-breaking wildfires, storms, or flooding this year. 

“[The] extreme weather that we’re seeing is only going to come more frequently and with more ferocity,” the president said during a trip to Colorado in September. “We’re blinking code red as a nation.”

As of October 8th, the United States has seen 18 weather or climate events that have caused at least a billion dollars in damages, according to NOAA. This year is outpacing 2021, which had 22 billion-dollar disasters, the most of all time.

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