Biden: Trump withdrawal from climate pact put us “behind the eight ball”

President Biden told world leaders on Monday that the U.S. was “back at the table,” ready not only to join other nations, but lead them in combating climate change. 

Mr. Biden referred only indirectly to his predecessor’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate pact in his remarks at the opening of COP26, the United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland. But he went further at an event later in the day, taking the unusual step of apologizing for former President Donald Trump’s actions.

“I guess I shouldn’t apologize, but I do apologize for the fact that the United States, in the last administration, pulled out of the Paris Accord and put us sort of behind the eight ball,” he said.

Leaders risk climate catastrophe without acti… 01:56

Mr. Biden was attending COP26 along with more than 100 other leaders from nations that signed onto the 2015 Paris Agreement. He called on other countries to “step up to the plate,” and said the conference in Glasgow “isn’t the end of the journey,” but “just the starting line to begin to really take for the first time really decisive action.”

In his address, Mr. Biden stressed that human-caused damage to the climate was already taking a devastating toll on people through natural disasters, and it could only be addressed if nations come together. 

“Worse is yet to come if we fail to seize this moment,” the president said, promising that the U.S. would lead by example, not words.

What to expect at COP26 climate summit 07:00

Prince Charles also addressed the leaders, warning them that “the eyes and hopes of the world are upon you to act with all dispatch, and decisively, because time has run out.” 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who kicked off the conference, portrayed the need for climate action in stark terms, saying the world was strapped to a “ticking doomsday device.”

This is the 26th time world leaders have met to try to limit global warming. The conference was postponed for a year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but the extra year of preparation doesn’t seem to have improved its chance of success.

The high-stakes summit has been called a last chance for countries to come together to stop catastrophic global warming. Almost 200 nations sent high-level delegations. They hope to put the world back on track to meet the goals set in Paris, including reducing global carbon emissions to zero by 2050, and limiting the planet’s overall warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

Scientists calculate that to do that, planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions need to be halved by the end of this decade. As it stands now, they’ll continue to rise. Experts warn that time left to take action to achieve the Paris goals is quickly slipping away, and the consequences of failure would be catastrophic for humanity.

Under the Paris agreement, governments were supposed to make increasingly larger cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions. But the required cuts haven’t been made. The wildfires, storms, heatwaves, melting of polar ice and rising sea levels we’ve seen already are just a taste of what could come.

“Everything that science had actually looked at was underestimated,” former U.N. climate chief Christina Figueres, who is widely credited with banging heads together to make the Paris deal happen, told CBS News ahead of COP26. “In terms of the degree of heating, the impacts, the human misery cost, the infrastructure cost… it’s all happening faster than we ever thought.”

COP26 Summit - Day Two
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (R) greet President Joe Biden as he arrives for the COP26 U.N. climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, November 1, 2021. Chris Furlong/Getty

Climate change tops Mr. Biden’s overseas agenda. He arrived on Monday fresh from the G20 economic summit in Rome, where he said his personal relationships with other leaders allowed them to make real progress.

But as he and other world leaders spoke about getting the world back on track, there were some notable absences. President Xi Jinping of China and Russia’s Vladimir Putin chose not to attend COP26.

Before he arrived, Mr. Biden said the focus should be on what countries like China, Russia and Saudi Arabia are not doing to address climate change, and he called it “disappointing” that those nations “basically didn’t show up, in terms of any commitments to deal with climate change.”

Oxfam activists protest during COP26 in Glasgow
Oxfam activists with ‘Big Heads’ of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi, France’s President Emmanuel Macron, U.S. President Joe Biden, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping perform in a Scottish pipe band, as the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, November 1, 2021. LEE SMITH/REUTERS

“Anyone that goes to COP26 to expect that we’re going to guarantee a pathway to 1.5 [degrees temperature cap] is simply not seeing the reality of things,” Figueres told CBS News. “We’re just not going to get there.”

Instead, she said the conference should be about “getting healthily close to 1.5 degrees.”

Even that may prove a mighty challenge.

Follow the latest news from the COP26 conference below.

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