Biden’s climate credibility hangs in the balance at UN summit in Glasgow

Edinburgh, Scotland – President Joe Biden is heading to a successful or failed global climate summit with one hand tied behind his back, with uncertainty about his ability to push the United States into forceful climate action souring his message that other countries must step up.

For months, Biden has made no secret of the fact that he wants to appear at the United Nations summit in Glasgow with strong measures signed into law to demonstrate that the United States is delivering on his ambitious pledge to cut emissions. If the law is not signed, at least a successful vote in Congress. If not a vote, at least unanimous Democratic support for a deal could say it was “as good as it did.”

He will arrive in Scotland on Monday without any of the above, as ongoing wrangling within his party casts a shadow over historic US climate legislation.

The most Biden can say with certainty is that the United States appears to be on the cusp of making the largest investment in combating climate change in human history—more than half a trillion dollars.

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

It is a tough sales job for the president to do for foreign leaders who fear the foreign leaders who for decades have watched the United States get serious about climate change as we have seen as power shifts in Washington.

Globally condemned former President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement is not far from mind. Biden earned early points by working on his first day in office to reclaim the United States’ engagement. But lately, foreign leaders have been closely tracking the chaos over the Democrats’ climate and spending bills for signs of how credible US climate promises are.

Whether Biden can successfully make the case on the world stage can play a major role at the summit, known as COP26, is a success or failure.

“You have China and others question the US’s ability to do what they committed to and use that as a reason not to force them to do more than they have committed to, because countries like the US are talking about their game,” said Alden Mayer, an expert on UN climate negotiations at the think tank. European E3G, “We don’t deliver.”

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

The risks couldn’t be higher. Scientists widely agree that a failure at this summit would cause the world to fail in its existential battle to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Even Biden’s global climate envoy, John Kerry, called Glasgow “the last best hope” for preventing catastrophic climate change.

“I think it is critical that expectations are low from Glasgow, but celebrate any step forward,” said Andrea Zanon, a former World Bank adviser and clean energy investor who has attended several UN climate conferences in the past. “These events are unfortunately chaotic. They are very bureaucratic. But the geopolitics of climate has never been this strong before.”

For Biden, getting strong climate legislation through Congress from the start was destined to be daunting and complicated by the slim majority of Democrats in the Senate that forced his party to pursue a legislative strategy that required just 50 votes. Under Senate rules, bills that go through the “budget adjustment” process are strictly limited to taxation and spending, which means any climate provisions must be carefully designed to be around dollars and cents.

With Biden heading to Europe, first for the G-20 summit in Rome and then to Glasgow, Democrats appeared to have largely rallied around the $1.75 trillion spending plan, which includes a wide range of social spending programs as well as climate measures. However, no vote was taken and it was not entirely clear whether the plan had strong support from a few senators.

The most comprehensive move the White House wanted to include in the bill was called the Clean Electricity Performance Program, a $150 billion plan to pay electric utilities that are rapidly switching from fossil fuels to clean sources like wind, solar, and nuclear and slap fines on those who don’t. NS. But opposing Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va. , forced Democrats to abandon it, the most painful of many climate-related cuts the White House has had to make while scaling back original ambitions.

What Biden got in what appears to be a near-final deal is money to stimulate clean energy — a lot of it. The framework includes $555 billion in climate spending — a historic amount — including $300 billion in tax incentives for wind, solar, and nuclear, and up to $12,500 in credits for electric vehicle buyers.

The Biden administration has been quick to show that the United States can still credibly achieve its emissions-reduction goals even without the original carrot and stick plan for electricity, which constitutes about a fourth of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. Senior administration officials noted that a broader economic transformation has already begun, with wind and solar generation prices falling in recent years, and the increasing adoption of electric vehicles.

The White House also cited Analytics From the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm, it shows that the US could technically still achieve a 50 percent reduction if other things go according to plan, including individual states cracking down and federal courts allowing new federal regulations.

“The climate crisis is a problem of epic proportions, so this is not going to be an isolated thing, this bill was passed and we solved the climate crisis,” said Ternan Sittenfeld, vice president of the Association of Conservation Voters. . “This bill is truly transformative, and it’s certainly the biggest thing we’ve ever done on climate and environmental justice by far and couldn’t come a moment sooner.”

Yet history offers a long list of reasons why foreign countries should doubt the United States’ big climate promises.

Many diplomats attending the Glasgow summit still remember the original 1992 United Nations treaty on climate change, which then-President George HW Bush would not support unless its goals were voluntary. Then came the Kyoto Protocol to commit countries to binding emissions cuts, which the United States had not ratified under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

US climate credibility was at its height under Obama, who helped broker the 2015 Paris Agreement and introduced a clean energy plan to use Environmental Protection Agency regulations to force deep emissions cuts from US power plants. But the clean energy plan never went into effect due to judicial challenges, and Trump said in 2017 that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

Alok Sharma, COP26 summit chair and a British Cabinet minister, played down global skepticism about US credibility, saying Biden’s emissions cut pledges were ambitious.

“Symbolically speaking, I think it’s really important that one of the first executive orders signed by President Biden is actually re-entry into the Paris Agreement,” Sharma said. “I think there is a real obligation on the part of the United States to make sure that we deliver.”

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