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Biden says the U.S. is leading global warming action, but it may not be enough

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

At the United Nations Climate Conference today, President Biden made some big promises about what the U.S. can do to help slow global warming. The meeting has highlighted the natural disasters, like floods and droughts, that are happening as world economies continue their dependence on fossil fuels. And President Biden put this plan on the table.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: An economy powered by clean, diversified, secure energy sources - opportunities unlocked through innovation and cooperation to deliver equitable, more prosperous and more stable and more just world for our children.

CHANG: Well, NPR's Ruth Sherlock is at the conference in Egypt, in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, and she's here to help us understand what President Biden's plans could mean. Hi, Ruth.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: Hi. OK, so I understand that President Biden was only on the ground in Egypt for something like 3 hours - it was just, like, a quick stop between other commitments - but can you tell us more about what he said?

SHERLOCK: Well, he came with what he said was good news about the effort that the U.S. is making. President Biden spoke about the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act, the recently passed bill that will see more than $300 billion spent on projects to develop renewable energy and limit carbon dioxide emissions. Here he is.

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BIDEN: Today, finally, thanks to the actions we've taken, I can stand here as president of the United States of America and say with confidence the United States of America will meet our emissions targets by 2030.

SHERLOCK: So the U.S. has pledged to cut carbon emissions by half from its 2005 baseline, and he also announced new plans to limit methane emissions. Methane is another powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

CHANG: Right. Well, in recent years, there's been growing focus at these climate meetings on whether wealthier countries who are the ones responsible for most of the carbon emissions causing climate change - whether they should pay poorer countries for the loss and the damage that those carbon emissions are causing. So how much did President Biden address that part of all this?

SHERLOCK: Well, look, he announced some projects to help developing countries adapt to the worst effects of climate change, like floods and droughts, and he announced money to help Egypt develop its renewable energy sector. But none of this comes close to the 11 billion a year in assistance that Biden promised at last year's climate conference. Congress, though, has allocated considerably less so far. Biden has said he would keep trying to get Congress to act on the pledge, but this may be difficult, especially if the Republicans take the House of Representatives.

CHANG: So what reactions are you hearing so far to the U.S. plan?

SHERLOCK: Well, you know, a lot of people welcome the fact that America is back in the conversation on climate change, but there's also a lot of frustration still that more is not being done, especially on the question of loss and damage - that's supporting developing countries who are among the least responsible for but the worst hit by climate change. The U.S. is still one of the world's largest emitters of carbon dioxide.

Omar Elmawi, a climate activist with the group Muslims for Human Rights, based in Kenya, told me he thinks that the complexities of getting funding through Congress isn't a good enough excuse for not doing more.

OMAR ELMAWI: Don't promise what you can't deliver because it's about time that people are genuine - are truthful to say what really they're going to do for this climate crisis that we're in today.

SHERLOCK: You know, another point that lots of people here are making is that, while the Inflation Reduction Act is a major development for fighting climate change in the U.S., the administration has also really ramped up its oil and gas production in the U.S. this year, partly in response to the war in Ukraine.

CHANG: Right. Well, that is NPR's Ruth Sherlock at the U.N. Climate Conference. Thank you so much, Ruth.

SHERLOCK: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.