Biden warns ‘what awaits us’ without climate action

By Robin Bravender | 09/19/2023 01:09 PM EDT

President Joe Biden encouraged world leaders to “reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and begin to climate-proof the world” during a speech at the United Nations on Tuesday.

President Joe Biden addresses the 78th session of the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 19, 2023.

President Joe Biden addresses the 78th session of the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday in New York. Susan Walsh/AP Photo

President Joe Biden issued a warning to international leaders on Tuesday about the global perils that lie ahead if nations don’t work together to slash emissions from fossil fuels.

Evidence of the “accelerating climate crisis” is everywhere, Biden told leaders gathered at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

“Record-breaking heat waves in the United States and China. Wildfires ravaging North America and Southern Europe. A fifth year of drought in the Horn of Africa. Tragic, tragic flooding in Libya,” he said.


“Together,” Biden said, “these snapshots tell an urgent story of what awaits us if we fail to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and begin to climate-proof the world.”

The president used his speech as an opportunity to tout the moves his administration has made on climate, including international investments and the massive law to incentivize renewable energy — known as the Inflation Reduction Act — that was enacted last year.

“Last year, I signed into law in the United States the largest investment ever, anywhere in the history of the world, to combat the climate crisis and help move the global economy toward a clean energy future,” Biden said.

Meanwhile, climate activists have organized protests in New York this week as the Biden team is touting its achievements while activists on the left are prodding the administration to move more quickly to crack down on fossil fuel development.

“President Biden’s U.N. speech rightly recognized the climate dangers of fossil fuels, but Biden ignored his own immense powers to get us off them,” Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

Soon after Biden’s remarks, protesters interrupted a panel discussion featuring Interior Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau, who spoke at one of many “climate week” events in New York this week.

The activists criticized the Biden administration for approving ConocoPhillips’ Willow drilling project in Alaska, which environmentalists have labeled a “carbon bomb” that defies Biden’s climate goals.

The White House also announced that Biden won’t attend a U.N. climate summit on Wednesday to which U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has asked government leaders to bring ambitious plans, including energy transition plans with commitments to no new coal, oil and gas, and plans to phase out fossil fuels.

Biden is sending U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, a former secretary of State, to represent the United States at Wednesday’s event, the White House said.

“Climate is such an important theme, woven into pretty much every engagement,” including Biden’s speech Tuesday, a senior administration official told reporters Monday when asked why Biden wouldn’t be attending the climate summit on Wednesday.

The climate summit is important, the official added, which is why Biden asked Kerry to attend.

Biden’s team has treated climate change as an “existential threat from the moment we took office,” the president said in his speech Tuesday. “Not only for us, but for all of humanity.”