23 april 2021

Biden pushes jobs as make-or-break argument in climate agenda

Billionaires, CEOS and union executives to help sell president’s climate-friendly transformation of US economy at virtual summit

Oliver Milman and agencies, The Guardian, Fri 23 Apr 2021

Joe Biden has urged world leaders to ramp up their investment in clean energy, using a White House summit to claim that “America is once again stepping into a leadership role” to combat the climate crisis.

“We are going to move to net zero [emissions] in transition in all countries,” Biden said in a speech on Friday. “Every country will need to invest in new clean energy technologies as we work forward to deal with net zero emissions.”

The US president said the country was rejoining various international alliances to accelerate innovation in renewable energy and reduce planet-heating emissions from agriculture. “America is once again stepping into a leadership role,” he said. “We must ensure that workers who have thrived in yesterday’s and today’s industries have a bright tomorrow in the new industries.”

Biden said the production of solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars, along with upgrades to electricity grids and to buildings to make them more energy efficient would “create millions of good paying jobs around the world, jobs that bring greater quality of life, greater dignity to people”.

The White House is bringing out the billionaires, the CEOs and the union executives on Friday to help sell Biden’s climate-friendly transformation of the US economy at his virtual summit of world leaders.

The closing day of the two-day summit on the climate crisis is to feature Bill Gates and Mike Bloomberg, steelworker and electrical union leaders and executives for solar and other renewable energy.

It’s all in service of an argument US officials say will make or break the president’s climate agenda: pouring trillions of dollars into clean-energy technology, research and infrastructure will jet-pack a competitive US economy into the future and create jobs, while saving the planet.

On Friday, a parade of leaders from countries such as Norway, Israel and Denmark outlined their moves to advance electric cars and clean energy in a session helmed by John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, and Jennifer Granholm, the US energy secretary, who sat around a horseshoe-shaped table with a centerpiece of a large tuft of grass set up in the White House.

Kerry said the shift to clean energy provided “extraordinary possibilities” on a par with the Industrial Revolution but that more needed to be done.

“There are exciting things happening, unbelievable things, but as a nation of communities writ large, we are not getting the job done. The key is raising ambition. The task will not be the rhetoric but whether we buckle down and get this done,” he said.

The new urgency comes as scientists say that the climate crisis caused by coal plants, car engines and other fossil fuel use is worsening droughts, floods, hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters and that humans are running out of time to stave off catastrophic extremes of global heating.

The event has featured the world’s major powers – and major polluters – pledging to cooperate on cutting petroleum and coal emissions that are rapidly warming the planet. Biden led the way by announcing the US would cut its planet-heating emissions in half by the end of the decade.

But Republicans are sticking to the arguments that Donald Trump made in pulling the US out of the 2015 Paris climate accord. They point to China as the world’s worst climate polluter – the US is No 2 – and say any transition to clean energy hurts American oil, natural gas and coal workers.

It means “putting good-paying American jobs into the shredder,” the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said on the Senate floor on Thursday in a speech in which he dismissed the administration’s plans as costly and ineffective.

Despite a clear majority of American voters, including Republicans, saying they support action on the climate crisis, previously hostile business groups welcoming Biden’s plan and economists warning of trillions of dollars in damages if dangerous global heating is not restrained, prominent Republicans have not shifted from claims acting on emissions would prove disastrous to the US.

Several are threatening further intervention. “I wake up every morning wondering how I will have to sue Pres. Biden over his radical job-killing climate plan,” tweeted Leslie Rutledge, the Republican attorney general of Arkansas.

Patrick Morrisey, the Republican attorney general of West Virginia who repeatedly sued Barack Obama’s administration over climate policies, said Biden’s pledge was “a domestic and foreign policy blunder of almost unfathomable proportions”.

Allies joined the US in announcing new moves to cut emissions, striving to build momentum going into November’s UN climate summit in Glasgow, where governments will say how far each is willing to go to cut the amount of fossil fuel fumes it pumps out. “This summit is a start of a road that will take us to Glasgow where we will make these commitments real,” Biden said in his speech on Friday.

Japan announced its own new 46% emissions reduction target, and South Korea said it would stop public financing of new coal-fired power plants, potentially an important step toward persuading China and other coal-reliant nations to curb the building and funding of new ones as well. The Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said his country would boost its fossil fuel pollution cuts from 30% to at least 40%.

The summit opening on Thursday also marshaled an impressive display of the world’s most powerful leaders speaking on the single topic of climate change. China’s Xi Jinping spoke first among the other global figures. He made no reference to disputes over territorial claims, trade and other matters that had made it uncertain until Wednesday that he would even take part in the US summit.

“To protect the environment is to protect productivity, and to boost the environment is to boost productivity. It’s as simple as that,” Xi said.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, was one of many allies welcoming the US return after Trump.

“I’m delighted to see that the United States is back, is back to work together with us in climate politics,” Merkel said.

Pope Francis said: “I wish you success in this beautiful decision to meet, walk together going forward, and I am with you all the way.”

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