Thursday

25th Feb 2021

US returns to climate deal and WHO, as EU 'rejoices'

  • Inauguration took place amid heavy security presence, but with no reports of violence (Photo: Anthony Crider)

US president Joe Biden has overturned America's exit from the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in his first moments in office, amid exuberant praise from EU leaders.

"I, Joseph R. Biden Jr., president of the United States of America, having seen and considered the Paris Agreement, done at Paris on 12 December 2015, do hereby accept the said agreement and every article and clause thereof," his order said.

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  • Joe Biden became the 46th president of the US on Wednesday (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

The climate decision, which will see America re-enter the global pact to curb global warming after 30 days, was one of several "executive orders" signed in the White House shortly after Biden's inauguration speech, in which he said: "A cry for survival comes from the planet itself".

Biden also scrapped plans to build a new oil pipeline, called Keystone XL, and to halt oil drilling in natural reserves.

He listed climate change as his number two priority after the pandemic on the White House website.

Gina McCarthy, his climate advisor, said he would overturn "more than 100" of former president Donald Trump's climate policies, "helping to position our nation to be the global leader in clean energy".

"So nice to see!", Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted.

"Welcome back to the Paris Agreement!", French president Emmanuel Macron said.

Biden's orders also created a new office to coordinate the pandemic response and to halt Trump's process of exiting the WHO.

His other decisions covered defunding Trump's Mexico border wall, overturning travel bans on majority-Muslim countries, and race and gender equality.

On the foreign policy front, the US embassy in Israel changed its Twitter handle from "Ambassador to Israel" to "Ambassador to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza".

But there was no sign whether Biden would also reverse Trump's decision to move the mission from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Biden's spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, signalled an end to Trump-era attacks on media.

"When the president asked me to serve in this role, we talked about the importance of bringing truth and transparency back to the briefing room," she said in her first press conference on Wednesday.

"I have deep respect for the role of a free and independent press in our democracy," Psaki added.

The inauguration took place peacefully, but amid heavy security after a pro-Trump mob shockingly stormed the Capitol two weeks ago.

And Biden's inauguration speech also pledged to fight "political extremism" and "white supremacy".

'Openly rejoicing'

The day's events were greeted with palpable relief by almost all EU leaders on the other side of the Atlantic.

"Never seen so many Europeans openly rejoicing at the departure of a US president before, not even George W. Bush, whom they didn't like much either," US historian and journalist Anne Applebaum tweeted.

"Once again, after four long years, Europe has a friend in the White House," European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said.

EU Council president Charles Michel noted it would take time to repair Trump's damage to transatlantic relations.

But Europe knew "we once more have the US at our side as an indispensable partner" for German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

"Equality is making its way unstoppably around the world," Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said, focusing on Biden's gender and racial policies.

Some of Trump's former friends in Europe, such as UK prime minister Boris Johnson and Polish president Andrzej Duda, also congratulated Biden.

But others, such as Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, were silent.

And the White House handover prompted anti-Trump schadenfreude from former British leader Theresa May, among others.

"When a British prime minister walks out for a joint press conference with the world's media unsure if the United States president standing next to her will agree that Nato is a bulwark of our collective defence, you know you are living in extraordinary times," she wrote in a column.

Polish "nationalists and demagogues" would follow Trump into defeat, Polish opposition MEP and former foreign minister Radosław Sikorski tweeted, while posting an old photo of Polish deputy prime minister Jarosław Kaczyński in a pro-Trump red cap.

Global ripples

China and Iran also welcomed Biden in their own way, while Russia, which had embraced Trump, stayed quiet, in a sign of the wider implications of the US change.

China blacklisted 28 Trump-era officials, including former secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

"Good riddance, Donald Trump!", the state-run Xinhua news agency said, after Trump started a trade war with Beijing.

"We expect the Biden administration to return to law and to commitments," Iran's president Hassan Rouhani said, amid hopes Biden would revive an EU-brokered nuclear non-proliferation pact with Iran, which Trump scrapped.

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