“We are standing at an inflection point in world history,” the US leader told more than 120 heads of state who had gathered, calling Glasgow the “kick-off” for a decade of ambition.
“None of us can escape the worst yet to come if we fail to seize this moment,” he said, noting that only a “brief window” of time remains.
“This is the decade that will determine the answer. This decade,” he said.
The aim of Cop26 is not to produce a major new agreement but rather it is the moment when the rubber hits the road on the Paris Agreement. Under the 2015 deal, countries committed to return after five years to pledge greater emission-reduction targets.
Scientists warn that global temperature rise must be kept to an increasingly ambitious 1.5C above pre-industrial times by 2100, or “well below” 2C to prevent even more extreme impacts. Currently, the world has heated about 1.1C.
Mr Biden addressed a largely empty room where numbers of attendees were limited. World leaders were asked by Cop26 President Alok Sharma to limit their speeches to three minutes but Mr Biden spoke for more than 10.
“To state the obvious, we meet with the eyes of history upon us and a profound question before us. It’s simple: Will we act? Will we do what is necessary? Will we seize the enormous opportunity before us? Or will we condemn future generations to suffer,” Mr Biden said.
His remarks came as the US formally unveiled its long-term strategy to tackle the climate crisis including its goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050.
The new initiative also chimes with a central goal of Cop26 - figuring out ways to adapt to worsening climate impacts along with turning the tide on emissions.
The US’s PREPARE plan will plow more money than ever before into adaption - $3 billion a year by 2024, the White House said on Monday.
Mr Biden said that the climate crisis was no longer a “hypothetical threat” but one that had gripped America, along with every other region, and was “ravaging the world” with droughts, crop failures, heatwaves and “once-in-a-century storms that come every few years”.
“It’s costing our nations trillions of dollars,” he noted. He also leant on a refrain that will be familiar to American voters: that, for Mr Biden, “climate change is about jobs”.
His speech referred to his Build Back Better plan – which has taken a hammering by members of his own party – but looks likely to be voted on in Congress this week. He called the framework “the most significant plan to deal with emissions of any advanced nation ever”.
He addressed current high energy prices, saying it underlined the need to “diversify energy”. He said that in the US, his plan would provide tax credits for solar panels, weatherising homes, and electric vehicles, while part of upgrading US infrastructure would be building massive wind turbines offshore.
The US must do more to help developing countries adapt for climate challenges and take advantage of the clean energy transition, Mr Biden added.
“Every day we delay the cost of inaction increases,” the president said. “We can do this. We just have to make the choice to do it. So let’s get to work.”
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