UN Security Council COVID-19

In this image made from UNTV video, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a U.N. Security Council high-level meeting on COVID-19 recovery focusing on vaccinations, chaired by British Foreign Secretary Dominc Raab, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, at UN headquarters.

WASHINGTON — World leaders welcomed the United States’ official return to the Paris climate accord Friday, but politically trickier steps lie just ahead for President Joe Biden, including setting a tough national target in coming months for cutting damaging fossil fuel emissions.

And even as Biden noted the country’s first day back in the climate pact, the globe’s warming was just one of a long list of urgent problems he raised in a video speech to European leaders on Friday, a month into his administration. Before bringing up climate issues, he touched on the global pandemic, sputtering national economies and tense relations with China, among other matters that threaten to impede and delay tackling the nation’s status as the world’s top carbon polluter after China.

Despite all the other challenges, Biden said, speaking to the Munich security conference, “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.”

Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office reversing the pullout ordered by President Donald Trump. Trump said soon after he took office that he would start the process of pulling the U.S. from the Paris accord, but it didn’t take effect until Nov. 4, 2020, because of provisions in the agreement.

Officially, the United States was only out of the worldwide global climate pact for 107 days. It was part of Trump’s withdrawal from global allegiances in general and his oft-stated but false view that global warming was a laughably mistaken take by the world’s scientists.

More broadly, Trump reversed Obama-era initiatives to rein in oil, gas and coal emissions and opened new federal lands and waters to exploration and drilling. Biden is working to overturn those measures and additionally has pledged a $2 trillion remake of U.S. power grids, transportation systems and other infrastructure to sharply cut fossil fuel pollution.

While Friday’s return is heavily symbolic, world leaders say they expect America to prove its seriousness to the cause. They are particularly eager for the United States to announce its new national 2030 target for cutting fossil fuel emissions, which scientists agree are altering the Earth’s climate and worsening the extremes of drought, hurricanes, flooding and other natural disasters.

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

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

The Biden administration is working now on a target that balances meaningful cuts in emissions with political and financial realities. Settling on a U.S. emissions goal by April, when Biden plans to host world leaders for an Earth Day summit, would help the administration prod other countries for ambitious emissions cuts as well. That spring meeting should see countries start “to put the down payments on the table,” John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, said Friday.