Biden avoids confronting China over climate in Earth Day speech with world leaders

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President Biden urged world leaders to act quickly and together to confront the consequences of Earth’s changing climate, but notably did not specifically address heavy polluters like China.

Tensions have remained high between the U.S. and the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter over the past couple of months. 

Speaking at an economic forum on Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for more equitable management of global affairs and criticized the “unilateralism of individual countries” in an apparent swipe at the U.S. 


However, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry visited China just days before and renewed joint efforts to tackle the issue during talks in Shanghai. 

Xi — a last-minute addition — spoke first among the global figures in attendance on the first day of the international Leaders Summit on Climate, though he made no reference to previous disputes with the U.S. and said China would work with America in cutting emissions.

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

In his opening remarks, Biden said that working to preserve the planet is not only necessary but is also about “providing a better future for all of us.” 

President Joe Biden speaks to the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, from the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Joe Biden speaks to the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, from the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“That’s why, when people talk about climate, I think jobs. Within our climate response lies an extraordinary job creation and economic opportunity ready to be fired up,” he said. “That’s why I’ve proposed a huge investment in American infrastructure and American innovation to tap the economic opportunity that climate change presents our workers and our communities, especially those too often that have — left out and left behind.”

Biden pledged to build a critical infrastructure to produce and deploy clean technology and assured that after consulting experts he sees the potential for a more prosperous and equitable future including “millions of good-paying middle-class union jobs.”

On Thursday, U.S. jobless claims dropped to 547,000 — a new pandemic low as layoffs ease and the economy continues to rebound.

In this effort, he also vowed to slash carbon emissions in half by the year 2030 with steps he says will set the country on a path of net-zero emissions by “no later than 2050.” 

In his vision for green infrastructure, Biden said workers would buy thousands of miles of transmission lines for a “clean, modern, resilient grid,” cap hundreds of thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells and reclaim abandoned coal mines, build electric vehicles and install 500,000 charging stations along highways nationwide, construct new carbon capture and green hydrogen plants and deploy cutting-edge farming tools.”

“By maintaining those investments and putting these people to work, the United States sets out on the road to cut our greenhouse gases in half by the end of this decade,” he said, adding that the cost of inaction “just keeps mounting” and the “science is undeniable.”

Biden then addressed his 40 invitees, saying America represents less than half of the world’s emissions and “no nation can solve this crisis alone.”

Attendees also included Russian President Vladimir Putin; British Prime Minister Boris Johnson; Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud; Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; French President Emmanuel Macron; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi; Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga; Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro; Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; and Korean President Moon Jae-in.


“All of us, all of us — and particularly those of us who represent the world’s largest economies — we have to step up,” Biden said.” You know, those that do take action and make bold investments in their people, in [a] clean energy future, will win the good jobs tomorrow and make their economies more resilient and more competitive. The president stressed that keeping Earth’s temperature to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius is a “moral imperative” ahead of the November U.N. Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland

“This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative. A moment of peril, but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities. Time is short, but I believe we can do this and I believe that we will do this,” he said. 

“We really have no choice. We have to get this done,” Biden added.

Climate activists were seen in videos posted Thursday on Twitter marching to the White House to dump cow poop in a reference to Biden’s plans they say are “b——t” and not stringent enough.

The Biden administration’s pledge would require the most ambitious U.S. climate effort ever undertaken as scientists say man-made climate change is worsening around the world on multiple fronts.

The virtual summit, scheduled to continue through Friday night, was held on the United States’ 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

Hoping to spotlight the issue on a national level, Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Md., created Earth Day in the spring of 1970 to advocate for legal and regulatory mechanisms to protect the environment.


After 20 million Americans took to the streets in support of the cause, Congress authorized the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in December of the same year.

Now, says the day is “widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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