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A group of teenage protesters, part of the global movement 'Fridays for Future' against climate change, gather in front of the White House, in Washington, on May 24, 2019.

ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images

The United States officially returned to the Paris global climate accord on Friday, and President Joe Biden and other U.S. leaders declared the country could not afford to sideline the growing climate crisis again.

“We can no longer delay or do the bare minimum to address climate change. This is a global existential crisis, and all of us will suffer if we fail,” Mr. Biden told European leaders at a Munich security conference by video Friday.

“We’re back,” Mr. Biden said, renewing assurances the U.S. was back in global initiatives at large.

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U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday used his first big appearance on the global stage - a 'virtual visit' to Europe - to try to re-establish the United States as a multilateral team player. Reuters

Officially, former president Donald Trump’s removal of the country from the worldwide global climate pact stood for only 107 days. It was part of Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from global allegiances in general and his often-stated but false view that ongoing global warming was a laughably mistaken take by the world’s scientists.

The U.S. return to the Paris agreement became official Friday, almost a month after Mr. Biden told the United Nations that the U.S. wants back in. “A cry for survival comes from the planet itself,” Mr. Biden said in his inaugural address. “A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear now.”

While Friday’s return is heavily symbolic, world leaders say they expect the U.S. to prove its seriousness after four years of being pretty much absent. They are especially anticipating an announcement from the U.S. in coming months on its goal for cutting damaging emissions from burning coal and petroleum by 2030.

The Biden administration says it will settle on a tougher new target for the U.S. emissions cuts by the time Mr. Biden holds a planned Earth Day global summit for world leaders, April 22.

Mr. Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office reversing the pullout ordered by Mr. Trump. The Trump administration had announced its withdrawal from the Paris accord in 2019, but it didn’t become effective until Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the election, because of provisions in the agreement.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday that the official U.S. re-entry “is itself very important,” as is Mr. Biden’s announcement that the U.S. will return to providing climate aid to poorer countries, as promised in 2009.

“It’s the political message that’s being sent,” said Christiana Figueres, the former United Nations climate chief. She was one of the leading forces in hammering out the 2015 mostly voluntary agreement in which nations set their own goals to reduce greenhouse gases.

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One fear was that other countries would follow the U.S. in abandoning the climate fight, but none did, Ms. Figueres said. She said the real issue was four years of climate inaction by the Trump administration. U.S. cities, states and businesses still worked to reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide but without the federal government.

“From a political symbolism perspective, whether it’s 100 days or four years, it’s basically the same thing,” Ms. Figueres said. “It’s not about how many days. It’s the political symbolism that the largest economy refuses to see the opportunity of addressing climate change.”

“We’ve lost too much time,” Ms. Figueres said.

United Nations Environment Program Director Inger Andersen said America has to prove its leadership to the rest of the world, but she said she has no doubt it will when it submits its required emissions cutting targets. The Biden administration promises to announce them before an Earth Day summit in April.

“We hope they will translate into a very meaningful reduction of emissions and they will be an example for other countries to follow,” Mr. Guterres said. Already more than 120 countries, including No. 1 emitter China, have promised to have net zero carbon emissions around midcentury.

In a day of Biden administration outreach to global and domestic audiences marking the U.S. recommitment to cutting climate-damaging fossil fuel emissions, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “climate change and science diplomacy can never again be `add-ons’ in our foreign policy discussions.”

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“Addressing the real threats from climate change and listening to our scientists is at the centre of our domestic and foreign policy priorities,” Mr. Blinken said. “It is vital in our discussions of national security, migration, international health efforts, and in our economic diplomacy and trade talks.”

University of Maryland environment professor Nate Hultman, who worked on the Obama administration’s official Paris goal, said he expects a 2030 target of cutting carbon dioxide emissions between 40 per cent and 50 per cent from the 2005 baseline levels.

Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate energy panel, has criticized Mr. Biden, a Democrat, for rejoining Paris, tweeting: “Returning to the Paris climate agreement will raise Americans’ energy costs and won’t solve climate change. The Biden administration will set unworkable targets for the United States while China and Russia can continue with business as usual.?

A long-time international goal, included in the Paris accord with an even more stringent target, is to keep warming below 2 C since preindustrial times. The world has already warmed 1.2 C since that time.

The U.S. rejoining the Paris accord and coming up with an ambitious target for emissions cuts would make limiting warming “to well below 2 degrees – not just to 2 degrees but below 2 degrees – a lot more likely,” said climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, energy and climate director for the Breakthrough Institute.

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