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Biden pledges to double US aid to fight climate change, defends Afghan move in UN address

In his first speech to the UN General Assembly, Biden described climate change and Covid pandemic as 'looming crises wherein lie enormous opportunities' if everyone can 'work together'.

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New York: President Joe Biden urged the world to turn from conflict toward cooperation against the urgent threats of climate change and disease, seeking to shore up international alliances shaken by recent U.S. foreign policy missteps.

“Instead of continuing to fight the wars of the past, we are fixing our eyes and devoting our resources to the challenges that hold the keys to our collective future,” Biden said Tuesday in his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

He described climate change and the continuing coronavirus pandemic as “urgent and looming crises wherein lie enormous opportunities,” if the globe can “work together to seize” them. Biden pledged that the U.S. would double its financial support to help low-income countries adapt to a warming climate and shift to clean energy. In April, he had committed $5.7 billion.

Biden said he would “work with Congress” on the pledge, which he said would make the U.S. a leader in climate finance, should lawmakers go along with it.

White House officials depicted Biden’s speech as an opportunity to underscore the U.S. commitment to restoring international institutions after former President Donald Trump’s “America First” approach, and focus global efforts to combat climate change and Covid-19.

But the president’s attempts to burnish U.S. standing in the world have run headlong into growing anger in foreign capitals. Some foreign leaders were upset over the hasty withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan; France is outraged over a new defense alliance that calls for the U.S. and U.K. to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia.

The deal cost Paris a $66 billion contract to build Australia a diesel-powered submarine fleet. In response, France recalled its ambassador from Washington on Friday.

French leaders say they were blindsided by the U.S.-Australia agreement. The White House has said it was Sydney’s obligation to inform France that it was ending their submarine deal.

Also read: Modi-Biden bilateral meet will strengthen India-US ties, add momentum to Quad: White House

Morrison, Johnson meetings

Biden will meet with the prime ministers of Australia and the U.K., Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson, later Tuesday. He and French President Emmanuel Macron, who is not attending the General Assembly, are expected to talk by phone within days.

The president declared in his speech that the U.S. is “not seeking a new Cold War” with any country, without mentioning China directly. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned in a Bloomberg News interview last week that the two nations risked another Cold War if they didn’t improve their relationship.

“The United States is ready to work with any nation that steps up,” Biden said, and that pursues “peaceful resolution to shared challenges even if we have intense disagreements in other areas.”

Biden again defended his Afghanistan withdrawal, and said the U.S. “will continue to defend ourselves, our allies and our interests against attack, including terrorist threats.

“But the mission must be clear and achievable,” he added, and “U.S. military power must be our tool of last resort, not our first.”

Droughts, floods

The president warned that the world will face further pandemics, and that without action on pollution, humanity will suffer “the merciless march of ever-worsening droughts and floods, more intense fires and hurricanes” and intensifying heat waves and sea level rise.

But it isn’t clear that the U.S.’s own financial pledges to international efforts against climate change will materialize.

Biden asked Congress to spend $2.5 billion on climate-related programs during fiscal year 2022. Another $1 billion or so is expected annually in renewable project financing by the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation.

Environmental, business and faith groups have asked Congress to provide $3.3 billion to the efforts in fiscal 2022 instead, warning last week that lagging climate finance contributions by the U.S. risk undercutting America’s influence in international negotiations over global warming.

Although the U.S. contributions fall short of those by the European Union and other countries, rich nations as a whole have made almost no progress toward their 2009 pledge to deliver $100 billion a year to help poor countries confront climate change, shift to clean energy and build resilience.- Bloomberg

Also read: India, US will work together to advance clean energy goals, says climate envoy John Kerry


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