President Biden leaned heavily into the climate fight in his speech to the U.N. on Tuesday, boasting that his signature 2022 legislation made historic investments in green projects and offering a dire portrait of the years ahead unless global superpowers act swiftly.
Mr. Biden, speaking before the General Assembly in New York, drew a straight line between climate shocks and a long list of disasters that befell the world over the summer and in recent days.
“Record-breaking heat waves in the United States and China. Wildfires ravaging North America and Southern Europe. A fifth year of drought in the Horn of Africa. Tragic, tragic flooding in Libya — my heart goes out to the people of Libya — that’s killed thousands of people,” Mr. Biden said. “Together, these snapshots tell the urgent story of what awaits us if we fail to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and begin to climate-proof the world.”
Mr. Biden said China, in particular, needs to do its part to combat climate problems.
The U.S. leader has focused heavily on an agenda of climate and green infrastructure issues. He’s pushed for a pivot to electric vehicles, characterizing them as a job creator, and blocked oil drilling on Alaska wildlands.
His signature bill, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, included $369 billion in green-energy tax credits, loans and grants over a decade, though the total could rise as more entities qualify for incentives.
“I signed into the law in the United States the largest investment anywhere, in the history of the world, to combat the climate crisis and help move the global economy toward a clean energy future,” Mr. Biden told the U.N.
Vice President Kamala Harris also is leaning into the issue, which animates young voters, on a college tour of about a dozen schools in swing states. She recently told Virginia students the administration is keenly aware of the “climate anxiety” among young Americans who fear a worsening planet.
Republicans and other administration critics say the unrelenting focus on climate comes at a cost. They say shielding federal lands from drilling will result in higher costs at the gas pump and make the U.S. reliant on rogue nations for its energy.
They’ve also questioned the breakneck speed of plans to pivot from combustion-engine cars to EVs. Former President Donald Trump, the 2024 GOP frontrunner for president, has singled out the EV push as the source of tension behind a recent strike by the United Auto Workers union.
Mr. Trump plans to rally with auto workers in Detroit on Sept. 27 instead of attending the second GOP presidential primary debate.
Polling from Gallup shows that a lower share of people cite the climate and the environment as the nation’s most important problem, compared to things like the economy and the cost of living. Even among non-economic issues, the percentage citing climate (4%) as the most important problem in August ranked behind the government/poor leadership (22%) and immigration (9%).
Mr. Biden made it clear to the U.N. that climate remains one of his top issues, pointing to efforts to help developing countries adapt to climate impacts and meet emissions-cutting standards from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris accords, but Mr. Biden signed an order to reenter the agreement on his first day in office.
Mr. Biden said the public and private sectors need to double down on climate investments. He said big carbon emitters need to lead the effort to help other nations, notably in the Pacific islands, that do not emit as much but face some of the worse impacts from climate shocks.
“My administration, the United States, has treated this crisis as an existential threat from the moment we took office,” Mr. Biden said. “Not only for us but for all of humanity.”
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