US vows ‘all in’ approach for domestic climate policy, in line with call to others to cut emissions

US national climate adviser Gina McCarthy talking to foreign journalists during a virtual press conference earlier this month. PHOTO: ZOOM

SINGAPORE -The United States is "all in" when it comes to climate change, and is working to ensure that its domestic climate policy is in line with its call for other nations to step up and reduce their emissions.

Ms Gina McCarthy - the first national climate adviser in the US, whose role is to advise President Joe Biden on domestic climate policy - told foreign journalists during a virtual press conference earlier this month that she is working with US climate envoy John Kerry.

"We're working together to make sure that we're... domestically positioning ourselves to be effective, and raising the strength and profile and commitment of the world to this issue of climate change," she said at the event organised by the US State Department.

Last month, Mr Biden convened a two-day virtual Leaders Summit on Climate aimed at getting nations to set more ambitious emissions-reduction targets ahead of the United Nations climate conference slated for November.

During the summit, the US itself set a new target to reduce its emissions from 2005 levels by between 50 per cent and 52 per cent by 2030.

Ms McCarthy said this goal has been received as a "significant sign that the United States is all in".

"We're going to be moving forward with the leadership that one would expect from the United States of America," she added.

The US$2 trillion (S$2.66 trillion) American Jobs Plan is a key pillar in creating new jobs and helping the US build back better, she said.

The plan includes an overhaul of infrastructure, such as rebuilding roads, eliminating lead pipes in drinking water systems, driving clean energy deployment and investing in electric vehicles and charging infrastructure.

"President Biden's commitment from day one (was) that... tackling the climate crisis presented an important and necessary opportunity to grow our economy," she said.

People will be at the centre of the US climate agenda, she said. It is important to show them that climate action is not just essential but also beneficial.

"It will put people back to work. It will keep your kids healthy. It is a way to hand them a future that we can all be proud of."

Asked by The Straits Times if the push to green the energy and transportation infrastructure in the US could open doors for international collaboration, Ms McCarthy said the US has invested significantly in innovation and will continue to do so.

"We see that continuing to be an opportunity for international collaboration on these investment opportunities," she said.

While the US would like to see many of these innovations manufactured within its borders, she said this would not diminish its partnerships with other countries.

"In fact, it should open up significant opportunities for us to work together to innovate on the kind of strategies... and technologies that are going to benefit all of us," Ms McCarthy noted.

On US efforts to reclaim the leadership in tackling climate change, Ms Norly Mercado, Asia regional director for climate group, said Mr Biden has kept his promises to rejoin the Paris climate accord, cancel the Keystone oil pipeline, begin to mobilise the finance sector to tackle the climate crisis and meet demands for environmental justice.

"But to be a real climate president, Joe Biden must keep fossil fuels in the ground," she said.

Measures could include having a comprehensive plan to phase out fossil fuel infrastructure, not approving new projects, and calling on US-based insurers and financial institutions to divest from fossil fuels - especially coal - and commit to a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels within the US as well as overseas, said Ms Mercado.

The majority of shareholders of the largest funders of fossil fuel projects are based in the US, she noted.

"It is crucial that we stop the flow of money to fossil fuel projects in Asia, if we are to avoid catastrophic global warming."

Moreover, the US is the largest historical contributor to the climate crisis.

"Many Asian countries are least responsible and have least benefited from the massive burning of fossil fuels in the past 150 years. Yet, they are finding themselves in dire straits due to the impact of climate change," she said.

The US has a historical responsibility as the world's greatest emitter and must step up reducing greenhouse gas emissions and shifting financial flows away from fossil fuels, she added.

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