The joint letter arrives as a new UN analysis shows "baby steps" on climate action by nations won't suffice as planet suffers increasingly dire impacts from the burning of coal, oil, and gas.
Ahead of the U.N. climate talks in Dubai later this month, over 650 scientists issued a joint call on Tuesday demanding that U.S. President Joe Biden prove he recognizes the existential threat of the climate crisis by backing a "fast and fair phaseout of all fossil fuels"—meaning coal, oil, and gas—so that other nations can show equal ambition at the global summit.
With 2023 now on track to be the hottest year in over 125,000 years, and study after study showing that humanity is nowhere near meeting the emission reduction targets needed to keep temperatures below the 1.5°C target set forth in the Paris climate agreement, the hundreds of scientists argue that there is no better time for Biden to shift his leadership on the issue of global warming into a much higher gear.
"We write to you in a year during which the world has witnessed an unprecedented spate of devastating climate-fueled disasters, alongside record-breaking global average temperatures and record levels of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations," the academics and researchers wrote in their joint letter. "As scientists deeply concerned about the acceleration of climate change and the huge shortfall in efforts thus far to address it, we call on you to commit to more ambitious actions from the United States in the lead-up to and at the annual United Nations climate conference, COP28, in Dubai at the end of this year."
"As scientists across many disciplines who recognize the complex nature of climate impacts and solutions, we know for certain that solving this crisis requires significantly more ambitious action beyond what is being done."
In a new United Nations Climate Change report released Tuesday, the UNFCCC warns that the "baby steps" implemented by most nations of the world—and especially by the leading polluters—simply are not enough to address the planetary emergency and that COP28 in Dubai must serve as a "clear turning point" for world leaders and humanity.
Simon Stiell, the executive-secretary of UN Climate Change, said the woeful progress documented in the new report means world governments "must not only agree what stronger climate actions will be taken but also start showing exactly how to deliver them."
That message is very much in line with what the letter from scientists tells Biden.
In addition to vowing a rapid and just phaseout of fossil fuels, the letter calls on Biden to lay out specifically how the U.S. would implement such a plan and provide a concrete timeline for achieving it. The scientists say the administration must also "ramp up climate finance for low- and middle-income nations" to help them achieve a rapid energy transition; fully operationalize a loss and damage fund to mitigate the financial costs of extreme weather and other disasters fueled by warmer temperatures; and also act aggressively to minimize interference and deceitful greenwashing at COP28 by fossil fuel interests and other corporate actors opposed to progress.
Addressed directly to Biden, the letter concludes:
We call on you and your administration to make these commitments so that together, the global community can greatly improve the chances of preserving a safe and healthy future for people and the planet. The actions of the United States— as the world's wealthiest nation and the single largest contributor to historical heat-trapping emissions—matter greatly. And if our country acts boldly and fairly, we can unlock greater ambition from other nations. The world is watching, and this is a crucial moment for the United States to join with other world leaders and demonstrate genuine progress toward solving a crisis that is rapidly spiraling out of control.
The letter was signed by notable scientists in various fields, including Drs. Rose Abramoff, Rachel Cleetus, Belay B. Demoz, Peter Gleick, Katharine Hayhoe, Gregory S. Jenkins, Naomi Oreskes, Luis E. Ortiz, Ben Pauli, Nathan G. Phillips, Jorge Ramos, Geoffrey Supran, Lucky Tran, Aradhna Tripati, Sandra Whitehead, Sacoby Wilson, Nezahualcoyotl Xiuhtecutli, Gary Yohe, and civil engineer Andrew Kricun.
"As scientists across many disciplines who recognize the complex nature of climate impacts and solutions, we know for certain that solving this crisis requires significantly more ambitious action beyond what is being done," said Dr. Rachel Cleetus, policy director and a lead economist for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which helped initiate the letter.
The United States, Cleetus said, "is currently failing to live up to its responsibility as the wealthiest nation in the world and the largest emitter of historical heat-trapping emissions. As the climate crisis unfolds rapidly and with great inequity, world leaders must step up their domestic and global commitments to meet the moment and ensure a safer, more just future."