President Biden, in England on the first overseas trip of his term, began stamping his brand on U.S. diplomacy in person Thursday, pledging with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take aggressive action on climate change and gearing up for the Group of Seven summit by offering to give away a half-billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Johnson signed a revision to the 80-year-old Atlantic Charter between the U.S. and the United Kingdom, saying the allies needed to update mutual commitments to address threats such as pandemics, cyberattacks and global warming.
“We discussed our common goals for driving ambitious global action to address the climate crisis,” Mr. Biden said, noting that he will also attend a “critical” U.N. conference on climate change in November in Scotland.
The updated Atlantic Charter contains one section that would have been missing from any agreement signed by former President Donald Trump, whose foreign policy Mr. Biden is reversing at every turn.
“The world has reached a critical point where it must act urgently and ambitiously to tackle the climate crisis, protect biodiversity, and sustain nature,” the document states. “Our countries will prioritise these issues in all our international action.”
The White House also released the document and other statements using British spellings of certain words, such as “prioritise” and “defence.”
The two leaders met for 90 minutes in the seaside town of Carbis Bay in Cornwall, where the G-7 meetings start on Friday. They exchanged only pleasantries in front of the media, despite Mr. Biden once referring to his host as a “physical and emotional clone” of Mr. Trump.
“Everybody’s absolutely thrilled to see you,” Mr. Johnson told the president.
First lady Jill Biden said her husband is “so well prepared” for his first overseas summit as president.
“He‘s been studying for weeks, working up to today,” Mrs. Biden said. “Of course he knows most of the leaders that’ll be here. Joe loves foreign policy. This is his forte.”
Mr. Biden prodded wealthy nations to contribute their fair share of COVID-19 vaccines to the world, as he pledged that the U.S. will buy and donate 500 million doses of the “extremely effective” Pfizer-BioNTech version for the poorest nations.
The $3.5 billion purchase is the largest donation of COVID-19 vaccines by a single country and will stretch into the next year, with 200 million set for delivery this year and 300 million in the first half of 2022.
“This is a monumental commitment by the American people. We’re a nation full of people who step up in times of need,” Mr. Biden said in an outdoor speech from St. Ives in Cornwall.
But, he added, “We’re not alone in this endeavor.”
Mr. Biden said he expects the G-7 to outline a comprehensive plan to vaccinate the world on Friday. A draft communique viewed by Bloomberg News said the group is looking to offer up 1 billion doses by 2022 in a bid to end the pandemic.
The administration will use the second $2 billion of $4 billion it previously pledged to COVAX, the global vaccine-sharing alliance, to pay for the Pfizer donations alongside $1.5 billion from Mr. Biden‘s coronavirus relief package.
Senior administration officials said they will ensure that receiving nations have the cold-chain storage and other capabilities to get doses from the plane to arms.
The push comes amid intense pressure on the U.S. and other wealthy nations to help low-income countries get vaccinated.
The coronavirus has killed 3.7 million people globally and has shown an ability to mutate into fast-moving variants, so there is a push to stamp it out everywhere.
“Our values call on us to do everything we can to vaccinate the world against COVID-19,” Mr. Biden said. “There’s a risk of new mutations that could threaten our people.”
The administration also portrayed the donation as a triumph of American manufacturing. The doses will be produced at five U.S. sites employing thousands in Kalamazoo, Michigan; McPherson, Kansas; Chesterfield, Missouri; Andover, Massachusetts; and Groton, Connecticut.
Mr. Biden said wealthier countries are ahead in the global vaccine push, with 64% of American adults receiving at least one shot. Daily case counts are averaging below 15,000 for the first time since March 2020.
“Americans know firsthand the tragedies of this pandemic,” Mr. Biden said. “We know the tragedy. We also know the path to recovery.”
A full course of the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, so 500 million is enough to vaccinate 250 million people.
The donation comes on top of a previous commitment to send 80 million U.S.-controlled doses overseas by the end of June.
Oxfam, a charity association that fights global poverty, called the new pledge a welcome development but said it remains a “drop in the bucket” compared to global need.
“It’s encouraging to see that in its quest to get America vaccinated, the Biden administration has not lost sight of the needs of those outside our borders. However, charity is not going win the war against the coronavirus,” said Niko Lusiani, Oxfam America’s vaccine lead. “It’s time to let the world help itself. Rather than more lucrative transactions with very profitable pharmaceutical corporations, we need a transformation toward more distributed vaccine manufacturing so that qualified producers worldwide can produce billions more low-cost doses on their own terms, without intellectual property constraints.”
Mr. Biden backed a patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines but Europe pushed back and offered a more limited counterproposal to the World Trade Organization, leaving the idea in limbo.
The Pfizer vaccine was the first one approved for emergency use in the U.S. — in December, during the Trump administration. It’s proven effective against the original strain of the coronavirus and known variants, yet poorer countries reeling from mutations haven’t had much access to Pfizer’s shots.
Mr. Biden said the vaccines will be donated with no strings attached, though Sen. Ben Sasse — who praised the announcement — said it would be wise to distinguish the gifts from Chinese vaccines with questionable efficacy.
“We should move quickly to share these life-saving shots with friends in Asia and across the developing world with a simple message: Uncle Sam, not Chairman Xi [Jinping], cares about your health,” the Nebraska Republican said.
Mr. Biden did not confront Mr. Johnson publicly about tensions in Northern Ireland, although aides said it was a topic for their private talks.
“We’ve had a good first full day here in the U.K. we had a very productive meeting,” Mr. Biden said. “We affirmed the special relationship, and that is not said lightly … between our people, and renewed our commitment to defending the enduring democratic values that both our nations share.”