President Biden calls on biggest polluters to help developing nations combat climate change: ‘the eyes of history upon us’

"To state the obvious, we meet wit the eyes of history upon us and with profound question," President Biden said in remarks at the beginning of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. "Will we act? Will we do what is necessary? Will we seize enormous opportunity before us or will we condemn future generations to suffer?"

U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Monday called on the planet’s biggest polluters to help developing nations, many of them in Africa, who pollute the least but are hit the hardest, combat climate change, asserting that the “eyes of history” are “upon us.”

“Those of us who are responsible for much of the deforestation and all the problems we have so far have an overwhelming obligation to the nations who, in fact, were not there, have not done it.  And we have to help much more than we have thus far,” President Biden said in remarks at the beginning of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

“To state the obvious, we meet with the eyes of history upon us and with profound questions,” he added. “Will we act? Will we do what is necessary? Will we seize enormous opportunity before us or will we condemn future generations to suffer?”

He said current decade “will determine the answer,” because “the science is clear: We only have a brief window left before us to raise our ambitions and to raise — to meet the task that’s rapidly narrowing.”

“This is a decisive decade in which we have an opportunity to prove ourselves.  We can keep the goal of limiting global warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius within our reach if we come together, if we commit to doing our part of each of our nations with determination and with ambition. That’s what COP26 is all about,” President Biden added.

He insisted that those who pollute the most should help those who pollute the least, a reference to nations such as the United States, China, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The American leader announced series of actions his administration is taking to fight climate change, a crisis he described during his remarks as an existential threat.

Speaking at the U.N. Framework on Climate Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26), President Biden outlined the bold steps his administration is taking in his whole-of-government approach to combat climate change, underscored how bold action delivers economic prosperity and peace and security, and rally countries from every corner of the world to step up their ambition and confront this existential threat during a decisive decade.

President Biden committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions 50-52 percent below 2005 levels in 2030, reaching a 100% carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035, and achieving a net-zero economy by no later than 2050 – all while creating good paying, union jobs at home.

He is also committed to partnering with countries most in need to strengthen the resilience of communities and economies across the world, including those vulnerable to the unavoidable impacts of climate change, reducing tensions and risks of instability.

The conference comes just about ten months since Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement, restored U.S. leadership on the world stage, and reestablished U.S. position to tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad.

Around 120 leaders came together in Glasgow on Monday at the start of COP26, launching two weeks of global negotiations to help determine whether humanity can drive forward the urgent action needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.

“The science is clear that the window of time we have to keep the goal of 1.5℃ alive , and to avoid the worst effects of climate change, is closing fast. But with political will and commitment, we can, and must, deliver an outcome in Glasgow the world can be proud of,” COP President Alok Sharma said while addressing leaders at the first major global gathering since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The leaders were also addressed by poet Yrsa Daley-Ward, whose specially commissioned poem Earth to COP includes the lines: “Anything less than your best is too much to pay. Anything later than now, too little, too late. Nothing will change without you.”

“We need you to respond with courage to the climate and ecological crisis…for these next two weeks – which are so critical for the children, for our species, for so many other living beings – let us step into our hearts,” said campaigner, Kenyan environment and climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti.

COP26 brings the major emitting countries face to face with the countries most vulnerable to climate change. The World Leaders Summit will send a clear signal to negotiators to be as ambitious as possible and agree to a negotiated outcome that accelerates action this decade.

The Summit hopes to also underscore that the Paris Agreement is working, with increased commitments on finance, emissions and adaptation as we see the first crank of the Paris Agreement ratchet. 

Building on the publication of the $100 billion delivery plan, which the Presidency requested the Canadian and German governments lead, finance will remain a key priority. Discussions will centre on how the countries most vulnerable to climate change can access the finance needed to deliver climate adaptation and boost green recovery from the pandemic. 

Further to the commitment to mobilise finance, the opening of COP26 saw several new finance announcements to progress action on the $100 billion and address adaptation finance.

The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a funding package, as part of the UK’s Clean Green Initiative, to support the rollout of sustainable infrastructure and revolutionary green technology in developing countries.

This includes:

  • A package of guarantees to the World Bank and the African Development Bank to provide £2.2bn ($3bn) for investments in climate-related projects in India, supporting India’s target to achieve 450 GW of renewable energy installed capacity by 2030, and across Africa. 
  • The UK’s development finance institution, CDC, will commit to deliver more than £3bn of climate financing for green growth over the next five years. This will include £200m for a new Climate Innovation Facility to support the scale-up of technologies that will  help communities deal with the impacts of climate change. This is double the amount of climate finance CDC invested in its previous strategy period from 2017-2021. 
  • The FCDO-backed Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG) will also commit more than £210m in new investment today(MON) to back transformational green projects in developing countries such as Vietnam, Burkina Faso, Pakistan, Nepal and Chad.

Prime Minister Johnson was scheduled to host a roundtable on ‘Action and Solidarity’ bringing campaigners on climate together. This is expected to include Samoan climate campaigner Brianna Fruean, Brazilian climate campaigner Walelasoetxeige Paiter Bandeira Suruí, and Kenyan youth activist Elizabeth Wathuti, together with some of the biggest emitting and climate vulnerable nations to set the tone for negotiations at COP26.  

The World Leaders Summit will continue on Tuesday with further national statements and Leader events on action on forests and land use and accelerating clean technology, innovation and development.

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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