Biden’s virtual climate summit: diplomacy without human contact

WASHINGTON (AP) – There will be no hands to shake or backs to slap, no way to look a foreign leader in the eye. The little human moments that define status will be reduced to images on a screen.

President Joe Biden, a highly experienced politician, will host a major climate summit this week with dozens of world leaders – all stuck on Zoom.

Biden has made clear that he wants to reassert American leadership on the world stage, including on climate change , after four tumultuous and often inward-looking years of President Donald Trump. But even though the White House staff has tried to dress up the remote meetings he has held so far, while considering the climate summit on Thursday and Friday as an important moment, the president has not hidden how much he misses diplomacy with a more personal touch.

« There is no substitute for face-to-face discussions, » Biden said Friday as he welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to the White House for his first in-person meeting of world leaders.

« I very much appreciate the chance to spend time with you in person and exchange our ideas face to face, » he added.

Biden expressed to aides and advisers how much he misses the in-person interactions and friendly sides that typically occur on the sidelines of international meetings, moments that can often lead to breakthroughs in foreign policy, according to three White House officials not authorized to speak publicly. about the private discussions. He was at times disappointed with the stilted nature of his first bilateral long-distance meeting , held with Canada’s Justin Trudeau in February.

The White House announced that South Korea’s Moon Jae-in would visit Washington in May for Biden’s second in-person meeting of foreign leaders. And there are hopes that the president will make his own foreign trip in June. But so far, expectations for major diplomatic developments have been kept in check – and the climate summit is no exception.

Broadcast 100 percent live with no give-and-take behind the scenes, the summit will be more about sending a message about the U.S. returning to climate action and pushing the world toward a greener planet than about specific agreements or actions.

The world is still trying to figure out what the climate gathering will be like, but experts know what it’s not: don’t expect negotiations similar to those that led to the historic 2015 Paris climate agreement.

In Paris, « every comma, every dot, every sentence was negotiated 100 times, » said Christiana Figueres, the former U.N. climate chief who was one of the main architects behind the six-year pact. Instead, this week’s summit, she said, « is a public confirmation of each country’s intention to showcase its best current efforts. »

Climate activists can look forward to dramatic moments when countries like Japan, South Korea or even China are suddenly inspired by Biden and announce they will stop funding other countries’ coal plants. But Henry « Jake » Jacoby, who co-founded the MIT Center for Global Change Science, scoffs at the idea: « On a Zoom call with 40 nations of the world watching? Yeah, not a chance.

Instead, the summit is about planting the seeds for a November climate meeting in Scotland, where expectations and stakes are higher. But because of in-person restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic and the short time since Biden took office, this week’s meeting is more of a show-and-tell between leaders, all broadcast to whoever wants to watch. The real action comes later.

Most of the diplomacy over the next seven months will not be done by presidents, but behind the scenes by diplomats, such as recent trips by U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry, said Nigel Purvis, a former State Department climate negotiator in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

The face-to-face meetings in Scotland aim to bring everything together, which could still work, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday.

Biden made it clear that he understands the need to hold meetings at a distance: first, to protect the health of the leaders as well as the large group of travelers who accompany a head of state’s visit. Also, keeping things at a distance helps show that his administration is still discouraging travel in the midst of an increase in virus variants and COVID-19 cases.

But he hasn’t always appreciated virtual surrogates. He struggled with the mute button at a remote fundraiser and saw German Chancellor Angela Merkel forget to silence her own feed and interrupt British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a virtual meeting of Group of Seven leaders in February.

Biden’s foreign policy outreach at this point has lacked small moments in the midst of summits and state visits meant to flatter and make memories for foreign dignitaries.

President Barack Obama took Dmitry Medvedev to a hamburger restaurant in 2010 when the Russian president visited Washington. Obama’s youngest daughter, Sasha, who was studying Chinese at her private school in Washington at the time, had a memorable moment trying out a few simple phrases with China’s Hu Jintao during his state visit in 2011.

Vladimir Putin’s 2001 visit to George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, included a barbecue dinner, a lesson on how to dance the Cotton-Eye Joe and a ride in the Republican president’s pickup truck.

Such moments are hard to create in the age of pandemic, but that didn’t stop Biden and his team from trying to bring small frills to virtual politics. For example, Biden opened his recent virtual meeting with the leaders of Australia, India and Japan with a video of George W. Bush talking about the coalition’s beginnings after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. This was part of an effort to emphasize bipartisanship and continuity in the alliance.

Associated Press, 20 avr 2021

Etiquettes : Joe Biden, Sommet virtuel sur le climat, Donald Trump, climat, changement climatique,