On the heels of devastating weather across the US, President Joe Biden on Wednesday emphasised “the existential threat” of climate change, but dodged questions on whether he would declare a climate national emergency.
When pressed about declaring a national emergency, Mr Biden sidestepped, asserting that “we’ve already done that … practically speaking”.
“We’ve conserved more land, we’ve rejoined the Paris Climate Accord … we’re moving,” he said. “It is the existential threat to humanity.”
Climate activists have pushed the Biden administration throughout his first term to declare a national climate emergency.
Last summer, there was widespread speculation that he would do this through the National Emergencies Act, which would increase Mr Biden’s executive power in addressing the climate crisis.
Amid that speculation, Mr Biden went close in a speech where he said: “Climate change is an emergency. And in the coming weeks, I’m going to use the power I have as president to turn these words into formal, official government actions through the appropriate proclamations, executive orders and regulatory powers that a president possesses.”
But Mr Biden, so far, has not formally declared the emergency.
This summer, as deadly weather wreaked havoc across the US, from historic heatwaves to disastrous floods, Republicans in Congress again moved to block the possibility of Mr Biden making that move.
US Senator Shelley Moore Capito, ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, reintroduced a bill in June to block the declaration over “fear that such a declaration could lead to a repeat of a myriad of government-ordered mandates similar to those seen during the recent Covid-19 crisis”.
After the presidential election in 2024, a new administration could in any case retract any work made under Mr Biden’s executive authority.
Mr Biden on Wednesday gave a rare interview with The Weather Channel after declaring a new national monument in Arizona, a state that witnessed a deadly heatwave over the summer. Phoenix logged the hottest month of any US city on record, with 31 consecutive days at or above 43°C.
And closer to Washington on the east coast, more than 300,000 homes and businesses were without power on Tuesday morning after powerful thunderstorms lashed the region.
The US President’s travel to the heat-burdened American West came in the run-up to the landmark climate Inflation Reduction Act’s anniversary.
The Weather Channel is considered the most trusted news source among Americans overall, according to a YouGov poll. Mr Biden is the first president to give a televised interview to the outlet.
On Tuesday, Mr Biden announced new investments in conservation efforts and established the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – the Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument – in Tusayan, Arizona.