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World leaders laud U.S. return to Paris climate accord under Biden

A coal-fired power plant in Juliette, Ga.
(Branden Camp / Associated Press)

World leaders breathed a sigh of relief Thursday that the United States under President Biden is rejoining the global effort to curb climate change, a cause that his predecessor had shunned.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron were among those welcoming Biden’s decision in the first hours of his presidency Wednesday to rejoin the Paris climate accord, which reversed a key Trump policy.

“Rejoining the Paris Agreement is hugely positive news,” Johnson wrote on Twitter. He said that Britain, which is hosting this year’s United Nations climate summit, looked forward to working with the Biden administration on the issue.

Macron also tweeted his joy at the U.S. rejoining the Paris pact, saying that, with Biden, “we will be stronger to face the challenges of our time. Stronger to build our future. Stronger to protect our planet.”

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The accord, forged in the French capital in 2015, commits countries to put forward plans for reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which is released from burning fossil fuels.

President Trump had questioned the scientific warnings about human-caused global warming, at times accusing other countries of using the Paris accord as a club to hurt the U.S.

The world must redouble efforts under the Paris agreement to combat carbon emissions and mitigate the worst effects of global warming.

By contrast, Biden put the fight against climate change at the center of his presidential campaign and immediately launched a series of climate-friendly efforts Wednesday to bring Washington back in step with the rest of the world on the issue.

“A cry for survival comes from the planet itself,” Biden said in his inaugural address, “a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear now.”

Experts say any international efforts to keep global warming well below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — and ideally at no more than 2.7 degrees — as agreed in the Paris accord would struggle without the contribution of U.S., which is the world’s second-biggest carbon emitter, after China.

Scientists say time is running out to reach that goal because the world has already warmed 2.2 degrees since preindustrial times.

An 11th-hour Trump administration proposal foreshadows a tough balancing act for Biden on public lands.

Italy said the U.S. return to the Paris accord would help other countries reach their own climate commitments. The Paris agreement contains no enforcement mechanism for the signatory countries’ pledges to reduce carbon emissions.

“Italy looks forward to working with the U.S. to build a sustainable planet and ensure a better future for the next generations,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte tweeted.

The Vatican, too, was pleased, given that the decision aligns with the pope’s environmental agenda and belief in multilateral diplomacy. In a front-page editorial in Wednesday’s L’Osservatore Romano, Vatican deputy editorial director Alessandro Gisotti noted that Biden’s decision to rejoin Paris “converges with Pope Francis’ commitment in favor of the custody of our common home.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was more muted in her reaction, noting merely that her government would “probably have a more similar opinion” with Biden on issues such as the Paris climate agreement, migration and the World Health Organization.

Merkel’s conservative bloc has close ties to the German auto industry, which has fought tougher emissions rules for cars. Her potential successor, Armin Laschet, has defended the continued mining of coal in his home state even as Germany takes steps to phase out the fossil fuel by 2038.

German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze, of the center-left Social Democrats, voiced greater excitement at Biden’s move. “The U.S. is rejoining the fight against the climate crisis with great verve and enthusiasm,” Schulze said, adding that she hoped the new U.S. administration would use the upcoming global summit to “reinforce their pursuit of climate neutrality with a concrete intermediate target for 2030.”

Youth activists who have been at the forefront of demands that leaders take the threat of global warming seriously said they now want to see concrete action from Washington.

Joe Biden wants to reach 100% clean energy by 2035. But activists are worried he’ll choose Ernest Moniz for Energy secretary.

“Many countries signed the Paris agreement, and they are still part of the Paris agreement, but they make very free interpretations of what that implies,” said Juan Aguilera, one of the organizers of the Fridays for Future movement in Spain. “In many cases, signing it has become a show, because at the end of the day the concrete measures that are being taken, at least in the short term, are not satisfactory.”

Biden has appointed a large team to tackle climate change both on the domestic and international front. Former Secretary of State John F. Kerry, named as the president’s special climate envoy, took part Thursday in a virtual event with Italian industry at which he touted the green economy as an engine for jobs and said the U.S. planned to make up for time lost over the last four years under Trump.


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