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President Joe Biden speaks at the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit, on Nov. 11, 2022, at Sharm Al Sheikh. Image Credit: AP

SHARM AL SHEIKH, Egypt: President Biden pledged the United States will “do our part to avert” a “climate hell,” citing a warning made by the UN secretary general earlier this week in Sharm Al Sheikh, the Egyptian resort city hosting this year’s UN Climate Change Conference.

“We’re not ignoring harbingers that are already here,” Biden said. “So many disasters - the climate crisis is hitting hardest those countries and communities that have the fewest resources to respond and to recover.”

His appearance comes near the end of the first week of the conference, known as COP27, where talks have heavily focused on wealthy nations’ obligations to reduce their own emissions and help address the consequences of climate change in the developing world.

Biden also touted his administration’s climate record.

The United States is “meeting the climate crisis with urgency and determination,” Biden said, arguing his efforts would help ensure “a cleaner, healthier and safer planet for us all.”

Biden detailed how, under his watch, the United States quickly rejoined the international Paris climate accord that it had withdrawn from under former president Donald Trump - “I apologise we ever pulled out of the agreement,” he said.

During a news conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told delegates that the landmark climate legislation Congress passed this summer was “so historic in terms of its vision,” and had spread hope far beyond US borders.

Responsiblity of global leadership

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

Biden said the United States is “on track” to achieve its pledge of cutting emissions 50-52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

“The United States will meet our emissions targets,” he said, laying out major legislation passed under his presidency, including the largest ever US government investment in clean energy.

Biden, who was spending only a few hours in the resort of Sharm Al Sheikh before travelling on to ASEAN and G20 summits in Asia, challenged other countries to do more to cut carbon emissions in the hope of bringing global warming under control.

“Every nation needs to step up. At this gathering, we must renew and raise our climate ambitions,” he said in a speech that lasted about 22 minutes and was briefly interrupted by unidentified people in the crowd making howling noises.

“It’s a duty and responsiblity of global leadership. Countries that are in a position to help should be supporting developing countries so they can make decisive climate decisions - facilitating their energy transitions, building a path to prosperity compatible with our climate imperative.”

In a pointed criticism of the upheaval sparked by Russia’s war on Ukraine, Biden said the conflict gave fresh impetus to the ongoing push to replace oil and gas with renewable sources. As a major energy exporter, Moscow has for years had a strong economic grip on energy poor western Europe.

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

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As he left the venue to return to Air Force One for the flight to the regional ASEAN summit in Cambodia, reporters asked Biden what would persuade his Republican party opponents to agree to fund expensive climate initiatives.

And the delegation of House Republicans visiting the conference plans to argue that nuclear power and natural gas are essential to meeting global climate goals.

Meanwhile on Friday, the chief climate negotiator for the largest bloc of developing nations told The Washington Post he “wholeheartedly” supports the idea of taxing fossil fuel companies to pay for “loss and damage” - the irreversible harms from climate change that are already bombarding the developing world.

Pakistan flood vivid example

Munir Akram, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations and the lead climate negotiator for a group of developing countries known as the G77, is one of the most prominent negotiators at COP27 to endorse the idea floated by the UN secretary general and several small island states.

“But I don’t know whether it can ever happen,” Akram said in an interview.

The G77 successfully pushed to have funding for loss and damage added to the conference agenda at the start of the ongoing UN climate talks. Akram said the recent catastrophic floods in Pakistan, which affected some 33 million people and wreaked $30 billion in damage, are a vivid example of the need for a new finance mechanism that can quickly get resources to disaster-struck nations.

At the UN General Assembly in September, Secretary General Antnio Guterres called on countries to tax oil and gas companies’ windfall profits and use the funds to help developing countries cope with sea level rise, prolonged droughts, extreme weather and other climate impacts.

The idea gained steam among leaders from small island countries at COP27; Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne told world leaders earlier this week that fossil fuel companies should not be able to profit “at the expense of civilization.”

But it remains an open question whether the talks in Egypt will yield progress on the issue - let alone where the funds might come from. Wealthy nations have historically resisted any financial commitments around loss and damage, worried that it could lead to them being held legally liable for climate impacts.

Asked about loss and damage at a news conference in Egypt Friday, White House national climate adviser Ali Zaidi sidestepped the question, saying only that Biden is committed to “partnership and solidarity” with people facing climate impacts around the world.