Biden's credibility on climate in the balance at UN summit in Glasgow

EDINBURGH, Scotland – President Joe Biden travels to a crucial global climate summit with one hand cuffed behind his back. Uncertainty about his ability to press the US into tough climate action tarnishes his message that other nations must rise.

For months, Biden made no secret of the fact that he wanted to appear at the UN summit in Glasgow with powerful, legally binding measures to prove that the US would keep its ambitious promise to cut emissions. If not a signed law, at least a successful vote in Congress. If it wasn’t a vote, Democrats’ unanimous support for a deal he could say was “as good as done”.

He will arrive in Scotland on Monday without the above as the ongoing arguments within his own party cast a shadow of ambiguity over pioneering US climate legislation.

The best Biden can say for sure is that the United States is about to make the largest investment in fighting climate change in human history – more than half a trillion dollars.

“We won’t go there with disappointment,” Biden’s national climate adviser Gina McCarthy told MSNBC after the White House unveiled its new spending framework on Thursday. “He’s going to go there and meet people who know the United States is all back and that they have to run to keep up with us.”

It’s a tough selling job for the president to face suspicious foreign leaders who have watched for decades how US seriousness about climate change wavered as power changed hands in Washington.

The decision of former President Donald Trump to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement, which has been condemned worldwide, is always remembered. Biden scored points early on by acting on his first day in office to restore U.S. stake. But recently, foreign leaders have been following the chaotic back and forth over the Democrats’ climate and spending bill for signs of just how credible US climate promises really are.

Whether Biden can successfully enforce this line of reasoning on a global scale could play an important role in the summit known as COP26, is a success or a failure.

“You have China and others questioning the US’s ability to deliver on its commitments, using that as a reason why they shouldn’t be forced to do more than they’ve pledged because countries like the US have one Game talk, we don’t deliver, ”said Alden Meyer, an expert on UN climate negotiations at the European think tank E3G.

Biden has promised that the US will cut greenhouse gas emissions at least in half by 2035. But whether this can be achieved – and how – depends largely on how the battle over the spending of Congress ends.

The stake couldn’t be higher. Scientists largely agree that failure of this summit would fail the world in its existential struggle to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Even Biden’s global climate commissioner, John Kerry, has called Glasgow “the last best hope” to prevent catastrophic climate change.

“I think it’s important to have low expectations of Glasgow but to celebrate every step forward,” said Andrea Zanon, a former World Bank advisor and clean energy investor who has attended several UN climate summits in the past. “Unfortunately, these events are chaotic. You are very bureaucratic. But the geopolitics of the climate has never been so strong. “

It was difficult for Biden to get powerful climate legislation through Congress from the start, complicated by the wafer-thin Senate Democratic majority, which forced his party to pursue a legislative strategy that required only 50 votes. Under Senate rules, bills subject to this “budget reconciliation” process are strictly limited to taxes and expenses, which means that all climate-related regulations had to be carefully tailored to dollars and cents.

When Biden traveled to Europe, first to the G-20 summit in Rome and then to Glasgow, Democrats appeared largely to be allied around the $ 1.75 trillion spending plan, which includes a wide range of social spending programs in addition to climate action. But there were still no votes and it was not entirely clear whether the plan was firmly supported by some must-have senators.

The most comprehensive move the White House wanted to include in the bill was what it called the Clean Electricity Performance Program, a $ 150 billion plan to pay electricity providers who are quickly moving from fossil fuels to clean energy sources like wind, solar, and nuclear and impose fines on those who fail ‘T. But resistance from Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., forced the Democrats to drop it, the most painful of several climate-related cuts the White House was forced to make when its original ambitions were scaled back.

What Biden got on what appeared to be a near-final deal is money to incentivize cleaner energy – a lot of it. The framework includes $ 555 billion in climate spending – a historic figure – including $ 300 billion in tax incentives for wind, solar and nuclear power, and up to $ 12,500 in loans for EV buyers.

The Biden administration has endeavored to show that the US can credibly achieve its emissions reduction targets without the original carrot-and-stick plan for electricity, which is around a quarter of US carbon emissions. Senior government officials have indicated that broader economic change is already underway, as the prices of wind and solar power generation have fallen sharply in recent years and the adoption of electric vehicles has increased.

The White House has one too. quoted analysis from Rhodium Group, an independent research firm that shows the U.S. can still technically achieve a 50 percent reduction if everything else goes according to plan, including individual states taking aggressive action and federal courts allowing new federal regulations.

“The climate crisis is a problem of epic proportions, so it has never been a single time. This law is being passed and we have resolved the climate crisis,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of the League of Conservation Voters. “This bill is truly transformative, certainly the greatest thing we have ever done in terms of climate and environmental justice, and it couldn’t come a moment too soon.”

Yet history offers a long list of reasons for foreign nations to be skeptical of major US climate promises.

Many diplomats who attended the Glasgow Summit still remember the original 1992 UN climate treaty, which then-President George HW Bush would not support if his goals were not made voluntarily. Then came the Kyoto Protocol, which required nations to make binding emissions cuts that the United States never ratified under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

US climate credibility was high under Obama, who helped broker the 2015 Paris Agreement and instituted a Clean Power Plan to use EPA regulations to force dramatic emissions reductions from US power plants. But the Clean Power Plan never went into effect due to legal challenges, and Trump said in 2017 that the US would terminate the Paris Agreement.

Alok Sharma, president of the COP26 summit and UK cabinet minister, downplayed global skepticism about US credibility, saying Biden’s promises to cut emissions were ambitious.

“Symbolically, I think it was really important that one of the first executive orders that President Biden signed was actually re-entry into the Paris Agreement,” Sharma said. “I think the US is really committed to making sure we deliver.”

Leave a Comment