He described climate change and the continuing coronavirus pandemic as “urgent and looming crises wherein lie enormous opportunities,” if the globe can “work together to seize” them.
Biden pledged that the U.S. would double its financial support to help low-income countries adapt to a warming climate and shift to clean energy. In April, he had committed $5.7 billion. The president said he’d “work with Congress” on the pledge, which he said would make the U.S. a leader in climate finance, should lawmakers go along with it.
The earlier pledge was widely criticized as a meager contribution from the world’s largest economy and second-largest carbon emitter. Even at about $12 billion, the U.S. commitment would amount to less than two-tenths of a percent of the $6.5 trillion the federal government spent in 2020.
White House officials depicted Biden’s speech as an opportunity to underscore the U.S. commitment to restoring international institutions after former President Donald Trump’s “America First” approach, and focus global efforts to combat climate change and Covid-19.
But the president’s attempts to burnish U.S. standing in the world have run headlong into growing anger in foreign capitals. Some foreign leaders were upset over the hasty withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan; France is outraged over a new defense alliance that calls for the U.S. and U.K. to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia.
The deal cost Paris a $66 billion contract to build Australia a diesel-powered submarine fleet. In response, France recalled its ambassador from Washington for the first time on Friday.
On Tuesday, Biden sought to move past those differences, saying the U.S. would approach the Indo-Pacific region alongside “allies and partners, through the cooperation of multilateral institutions like the United Nations.”
“I prioritize rebuilding our alliances, revitalizing our partnerships, and recognizing they’re essential and central to America’s enduring security and prosperity,” Biden said.
The president declared in his speech that the U.S. is “not seeking a new Cold War” with any country, without mentioning China directly — though the he did condemn the treatment of minorities in Xinjiang. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned in a Bloomberg News interview last week that the two nations risked another Cold War if they didn’t improve their relationship.
“The United States is ready to work with any nation that steps up,” Biden said, and that pursues “peaceful resolution to shared challenges even if we have intense disagreements in other areas.”
Morrison, Johnson Meetings
Biden will meet with the prime ministers of Australia and the U.K., Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson, later Tuesday. He and French President Emmanuel Macron, who is not attending the General Assembly, are expected to talk by phone within days.
Biden again defended his Afghanistan withdrawal, and said the U.S. “will continue to defend ourselves, our allies and our interests against attack, including terrorist threats.”
“But the mission must be clear and achievable,” he added, and “U.S. military power must be our tool of last resort, not our first.”
He argued that by ending the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. could instead turn its eyes toward the challenges of the future.
“We’ve turned the page,” Biden said. “All the unmatched strength, commitment, will and resources of our nation are now fully and squarely focused on what’s ahead of us.”
The president warned that the world will face further pandemics, and that without action on pollution, humanity will suffer “the merciless march of ever-worsening droughts and floods, more intense fires and hurricanes” and intensifying heat waves and sea level rise.
But it isn’t clear that the U.S.’s own financial pledges to international efforts against climate change will materialize.
Biden asked Congress to spend $2.5 billion on climate-related programs during fiscal year 2022. Another $1 billion or so is expected annually in renewable project financing by the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation.
Environmental, business and faith groups have asked Congress to provide $3.3 billion to the efforts in fiscal 2022 instead, warning last week that lagging climate finance contributions by the U.S. risk undercutting America’s influence in international negotiations over global warming.
Although the U.S. contributions fall short of those by the European Union and other countries, rich nations as a whole have made almost no progress toward their 2009 pledge to deliver $100 billion a year to help poor countries confront climate change, shift to clean energy and build resilience.
“This is more in line with what the US needs to do,” Jake Schmidt, senior director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s international climate program, said by email Tuesday.