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Biden says climate fears are well-founded but touts progress at the U.N. summit

President Biden addresses a press conference at the COP26 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on Tuesday.
Brendan Smialowski
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden addresses a press conference at the COP26 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on Tuesday.

Updated November 2, 2021 at 5:09 PM ET

President Biden on Tuesday acknowledged concerns about the changing climate and skepticism among activists about whether the climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, will change things for the better.

"We have a lot more work to be done," Biden said at a news conference before leaving Glasgow to return to the U.S. "Anyone who is focused on the environment should be worried," he said, adding, "I'm worried."

Biden spoke at the end of a trip that included two days at the summit and time in Rome for the G-20 meeting.

"I can't think of any two days when more has been accomplished," he said, chiding China and Russia for not attending the gathering. "I think it's been a big mistake, quite frankly, for China ... not showing up," Biden said. "They've lost the ability to influence people around the world." He said Russian President Vladimir Putin has "serious climate problems, and he's mum."

Delegates to the COP26 conference, including the U.S., on Tuesday agreed to reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. They also agreed to reverse deforestation worldwide by 2030.

Asked why the U.S. was making commitments to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases when other nations — including China and India — are not, Biden replied, "because we want to be able to breathe and we want to be able to lead the world."

In an address to delegates at the COP26 gathering on Monday, Biden asserted the U.S. was "back at the table," and his administration was on the verge of making "the most significant investment to deal with the climate crisis that any advanced nation has made, ever."

The challenge of Biden's domestic climate efforts

Biden also expressed confidence that Congress will pass some $500 billion in spending related to climate efforts, despite the reluctance of a key senator, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to endorse the full spending package yet.

"I believe that Joe will be there," Biden said of the vote on the spending legislation. He said that Manchin's reluctance was due to his need to "look at the fine print." Biden also pointed to the plans endorsement from 17 Nobel Prize-winning economists, and said, "I believe we'll get this done."

Biden is hoping congressional Democrats will approve his traditionaland social infrastructure measures, which together would spend more than $900 billion on climate change, through a variety of grants, tax credits and other programs.

The physical infrastructure bill has already been approved by the Senate and is awaiting action by the House, where Democratic leaders hope to approve both measures in tandem.

But it's far from clear what the timetable will be, given the continuing refusal of Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to commit to the social spending package. Their support is crucial for the measures' passage in the evenly divided Senate.

Manchin said Monday that he will not support the proposed framework for the bill "without thoroughly understanding the impact it will have" on the nation's debt. The White House responded that it was still confident Manchin would ultimately support the legislation.

Biden's fingers are crossed for a Virginia win

On another domestic political topic, Biden also expressed optimism at the outcome of governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey. In Virginia, polls indicate the race is a dead heat between former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, and Republican Glenn Youngkin.

"I think were going to win Virginia," Biden said. "It's about who shows up." Biden carried the state easily last November against former President Donald Trump.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.