Joe Biden: the very life of the planet is at stake at Cop27

Addressing the UN global forum, the US president says he will lead and fund the fight against climate change

US President Joe Biden speaks at Cop27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. AP
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US President Joe Biden delivered a robust address to the UN climate summit in Egypt on Friday, mixing dire warnings over the fate of the planet with pledges to lead and fund the fight against climate change.

“If we are to win this fight, every major emitting nation needs to align with the 1.5°C targets,” Mr Biden said, referring to an agreement reached in Paris in 2015 to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

He said the US was on track to slash its carbon emissions and urged all nations to ramp up their own efforts to avert catastrophic global warming.

Mr Biden also touted the recent passage of a $369 billion spending package to green the US economy.

“The climate crisis is about human security, economic security, environmental security, national security and the very life of the planet,” Mr Biden said.

The US, he said, was “on track” to achieve its pledge of cutting emissions 50 per cent to 52 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030.

“At this gathering, we must renew and raise our climate ambitions,” he said.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has sent energy prices soaring, has raised concerns that solving the climate problem has dropped on the priority list of many countries.

“Russia's war only enhances the urgency of the need to transition the world off its dependence on fossil fuels,” Mr Biden said.

Mr Biden's 22-minute address was briefly interrupted when protesters in the meeting's main hall stood up and attempted to unfurl a banner protesting against the use of fossil fuels.

But security agents took the banner and Mr Biden, who had briefly paused, appeared unperturbed and continued his address.

The US president arrived on Friday afternoon in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh, where the summit ― known as Cop27 ― is being held. He and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El Sisi spoke to reporters shortly after the US president's arrival.

The two later held bilateral talks that focused on bolstering their “strategic relations” and human rights in Egypt, according to the White House.

“Cop27 must be a moment to write a better story for the world,” Mr Biden told the UN climate summit.

The US has historically been the world's top greenhouse gas emitter, followed by China.

Mr Biden's brief stopover in Sharm El Sheikh kicks off a week-long tour of Cambodia and Indonesia for the Group of 20 summit.

Mr Biden's commitment to spend $369 billion over a decade to fight climate change is likely to give Washington leverage over other industrialised nations to honour their pledges to reduce emissions and steer the world away from fossil fuel towards cleaner energy sources.

The US, he said, puts its money where its mouth is.

Egypt and the US have had a close relationship since Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel, Washington’s closest Middle East ally. Egypt has since received billions of dollars in US aid, including military assistance that currently runs at $1.3bn a year.

However, relations occasionally become fraught, chiefly over Egypt’s human rights record.

Sitting beside Mr Biden shortly after his arrival, the Egyptian president addressed reporters on the matter of human rights, which has been raised by activists, some world leaders and rights groups in the run-up to and during Cop27.

“Allow me to say to you that we are taking a comprehensive approach [to human rights] and we pay attention to the subject and we try to develop ourselves,” the Egyptian leader said.

He said his government has revived a presidential committee mandated to review the cases of thousands of critics held in pretrial detention. At least 1,000 of those have since been released.

Mr El Sisi also told the US leader that he had called for a national dialogue to chart the country's political future.

That call was made in April but the dialogue remains in its preparatory stage and is not likely to start before next year.

The Egyptian president's defence of his government's human rights record appeared designed to head off a possible call by the US president for the release of a British-Egyptian dissident who declined to take liquids this week after seven months of a partial hunger strike.

Alaa Abdel Fattah's family said he could die but authorities said a thorough medical check-up found him to be in good health.

The leaders of Germany, France and Britain raised his case with Mr El Sisi this week in Sharm El Sheikh, something that the pro-government media in Egypt denounced as foreign meddling.

Mr El Sisi, a former army general elected to office in 2014, oversaw a large-scale crackdown on the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood since the military removed an Islamist leader from power in 2013 amid mass street protests against his one-year rule.

The crackdown primarily took aim at Brotherhood supporters but also included secular pro-democracy activists.

Updated: November 12, 2022, 2:01 PM