President Joe Biden capped off a consequential week of meetings with his foreign counterparts abroad – in which discussions centered on Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, climate change’s existential threat to the Earth and a pandemic that has unleashed food, energy and economic crises across the globe – with a final symbolic gesture in Bali.
He planted a mangrove tree.
The mangrove tree represents strength, resilience and stability in the face of adversity. So it appeared fitting that in the final hours before boarding Air Force One to return home, the president – surrounded by the leaders of some the United States’ most important allies – helped lower mangrove tree saplings into the earth.
Biden eased his tree into a pre-dug hole before using a shovel to pack dirt into the hole. Wearing a G20 hat and rolled cuffs, the president triumphantly held up his shovel for the gathered press to see – a move that other foreign leaders next to him quickly copied.
Later, Biden was seen in conversation with a number of leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Cameras overheard him telling Macron and a guide about a debt forgiveness plan he developed in the 1980s alongside the late Republican Sen. Dick Lugar to reward countries that don’t cut down their forests.
Later, a man approached Biden about an encounter they’d had years ago that included his granddaughter Naomi.
“That granddaughter’s getting married in four days,” Biden said.
“This is why you’re missing the APEC,” their guide noted.
Half a world away, Biden’s predecessor was announcing his third run for the White House. But Biden responded unconcerned as he roamed the mangroves.
Asked if he had a reaction, he glanced toward Macron.
“No,” Biden said, “not really.”
Biden’s participation in the mangrove tree planting ceremony was initially scheduled to be his first public event of the day in his final day in Indonesia, but that changed after overnight reports that a “Russian-made” missile landed inside Poland, a NATO member, killing two people.
Following an emergency meeting with top allies to discuss the situation, Biden said the United States would fully support Poland’s investigation into the explosion. He also said “preliminary information” appeared to contest the idea that the missile was fired from Russia.
“I don’t want to say that until we completely investigate. It’s unlikely in the minds of the trajectory that it was fired from Russia. But we’ll see,” he said.
Biden’s three-nation trip through Egypt, Cambodia and Indonesia came at a moment of significant tumult around the world. Looming over Biden’s every meeting with foreign leaders was the ongoing war in Ukraine, which – since Russia’s invasion began in February – has transformed the world order and destabilized the global economy. It has also served to strengthen the United States’ alliance with some of its partner nations, as evidenced by the G20 summit in Bali that produced a resounding condemnation of the war from most of the member nations.
Indonesia is said to have the most extensive mangrove cover in the world – around 3.5 million hectares, according to the World Bank.
Mangrove trees play a helpful role in preventing coastal erosion and offer protection from extreme weather events like typhoons, hurricanes and tsunamis. They also play a significant role in combating climate change, with the capacity to store a significant amount of carbon.
One of the many topics of coordination during the G20 Summit was tackling the climate crisis and clean energy, and the mangrove tree represents a step in that direction.
Climate change was a key topic of discussion during Biden’s pull-aside meetings with India and Indonesia’s leaders, and the president also announced a range of investments by the US and multilateral institutions around the world during a G20 event on Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment aimed at clean energy.
Among the mangroves, the world leaders offered this symbolic, small step toward addressing climate change before departing Bali on their respective private jets.