Former vice-president says Trump will look to US ally India as ‘rogue country’ next door as he prepares to set out plans for US post-Trump presidency
Former vice-president Joe Biden is back at the UN climate talks in Bonn, to present his own vision for the future, but while he is critical of Donald Trump’s policies, he is also anxious to make sure America does not fall out of the Paris accord as a result.
He is headed to a crucial session next week, where officials will thrash out new “intended nationally determined contributions”, which each country has committed to reducing its carbon emissions.
The pledges would represent a new, holistic action plan for the world economy, which would clearly align the US to the Earth Day, international agreement set up in Paris in 2015.
Although Trump has promised to withdraw from the accord, his administration has the power to simply phase out the revenue the US is getting from its carbon pollution reduction commitments at the moment.
As chair of a key sub-group on the future of the Paris climate deal, Biden is also keen to ensure the political system of the US will not dismantle international cooperation on climate issues if it pulls out.
He is worried that Trump is about to launch a “slash and burn” assault on climate change policies, in a way that pushes beyond what was intended in the Paris deal.
“In Paris, we said we are going to go in a different direction, and we’re going to push beyond that,” Biden said. “We committed to slow, steady cuts. If you look at all the cuts we’ve put in place, they are next to zero compared to the rest of the world. So the size of the cuts we’ve made now will not happen in the future.”
If Trump succeeds in undermining the climate deal, Biden said that the US would lose influence. He said: “I worry that the rest of the world will turn to our competitor, India, as a rogue country next door and we will become a laggard.”
He cited an example of how the US stood out before Paris by pledging to limit carbon pollution to below 2005 levels, years before it was legally required to do so.
“I think it’s now been forgotten,” he said. “We had four years of Presidents Bush and Obama all committed to it – mostly in private. Then, when Obama announced in 2009 in Copenhagen we were going to do it, but he didn’t announce when. So when we did announce it, most of the leadership on climate had gone to China and India,” Biden said.
“We were leaving our competitors on the side. The rest of the world was still following on Kyoto,” Biden said.
Although he is one of the most powerful figures in international climate change policy, Biden has been involved in government since the 1970s. But as the Obama administration steered clear of predictions that the world was headed towards a climate catastrophe, Biden was still a newbie to the world of clean technology and climate policy.
When he made a shock entry into the national political scene in 2007, he had very little experience of the world of climate policy or of international diplomacy.
Former environment secretary, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who worked closely with Biden in the Obama administration said: “You need a lot of years to learn, to understand. I had no idea what I was doing. Then you learn over time.”
Biden said one of the biggest lessons he has learned is that the job of a big country like the US is much more difficult than it appears.
The need to cooperate is paramount, he said, because the global economic system is on a collision course with the planetary system – if major pollution continues unchecked, the Earth’s atmosphere could one day warm beyond the point of freezing.
And despite what Trump says and does, he believes the US still has a lot to offer.
“I know the president is a free-lancer. It’s like being an actor: you can be an actor, you can be a secretary, but you are going to make your money somewhere,” Biden said.
“Think of the company that supplies air conditioners or trucks. There are a lot of people who don’t think there is a problem, because they drive trucks or watch television. But when they are asked, if it gets hot, how does the air cool, the answer will be ‘I don’t know’. That’s how long it takes to make these things.�