Any smaller target would thwart momentum, according to environmental activists, experts and veterans of global climate diplomacy. Even a range of cuts including cuts below 50%, as envisioned by the White House, could create problems both nationally and internationally for Biden’s agenda.
“He has a coalition and some sort of organizational base – and in particular some sort of political connection with young voters – it’s his right now. [and] motivated to try to help get there, ”said John Podesta, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and who led the Obama administration’s climate efforts. “If you deflate this, there are consequences.”
U.S. officials have a lot of ground to catch up with after years of federal inaction, and Biden has urged his team led by climate envoy John Kerry and national climate adviser Gina McCarthy to act quickly by hosting the world summit less than 100 days after his mandate. That rush left many questions circulating about what exactly to expect from the speeches of the 40 nations invited to participate in the virtual event on Thursday and Friday.
The summit’s agenda was always a “living document,” Kerry’s team member Sue Biniaz told reporters on Tuesday. The administration hasn’t even fully staffed all of its climate posts, and this past weekend senior officials were still deciding how to roll out the centerpiece of the event: America’s new greenhouse gas emissions targets. Greenhouse.
“The responsibility seems heavy,” a White House official who works on Biden’s climate efforts told POLITICO. “We have been hoping for this moment for a long time. And I think just being here and knowing that we have the opportunity to do what I hope is a pretty big step forward, and almost a change, it’s really exciting.
Kerry did her late sprint in Shanghai and Seoul, South Korea last week, on the heels of visits to India and Bangladesh. This trip, which has been run by skeleton staff since the State Department climate offices decimated under the Trump administration, have drafted a new joint US-China statement that they will cooperate to tackle climate change, making it a rare occurrence political agreement in the increasingly strained relationship.
The effort to hold the climate summit so early in the new administration may not result in major breakthroughs from huge issuers like China, India or Brazil, experts said, although it shows that Biden’s team is serious about their engagement on the issue – and has persuaded allies to put more energy into how they will improve their goals.
“Diplomacy is usually not fast, so trying to bring the world’s major economies together in 100 days is a colossal undertaking,” said Nigel Purvis, who held a high-level state position during the transition. from President Bill Clinton to George W. Bush and now heads the consultancy firm Climate Advisers. “We were not asked to host a world summit within 100 days of administration. I can tell you how difficult it would have been.
While Biden’s team has been quiet about their new greenhouse gas targets, the White House official said the emissions target was designed to be achievable without help from Congress, where the fate of its $ 2.2 trillion infrastructure package that includes massive research spending, incentives for electric vehicles, and investment in the power grid remain uncertain.
While the United States is on track to meet former President Barack Obama’s target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 26-28% by 2025, the reductions recorded have been driven by stronger than expected cost reductions for renewable and aggressive technologies. steps taken by cities, states and the private sector to move quickly to clean energy in response to Trump’s climate policy setbacks.
“It’s really exciting,” the White House official said. “I mean, obviously, it’s going to be criticized in all ways, in all directions as being too much or too little – all things. But for me at least … I know this really represents an incredible step forward.
And experts say the United States is playing a disproportionate role in the international climate arena, and that an aggressive target by Washington to limit heat-scavenging gases could place it in the type of leadership position that has contributed to the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. It’s a role Senior US officials aim to play.
“Our diplomats will challenge the practices of countries whose action – or inaction – sets us back,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday. “When countries continue to depend on coal for a significant amount of their energy, or invest in new coal plants or allow massive deforestation, they will hear from the United States and our partners about how badly these actions are. harmful. “
While the United States is the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide on the planet at about half the level of China, which is the primary source of gas produced by the combustion of fossil fuels, no nation in history is no longer responsible for putting the world in its current dire position. than the United States
This put pressure on the United States, as well as other countries that have built their economies over the past century on fossil fuels, to help pay to strengthen the defenses of poor and small countries. Island states that are expected to face the worst consequences of bad weather. and the rising seas. And developing countries keen to build modern economies are pushing for finance to build clean energy systems, rather than relying on fuels like coal.
These funding issues remain among the most difficult to resolve in international negotiations, which will continue at the next COP26 meeting scheduled in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.
“I see it as the starting line for all the work that needs to be done this year,” Nat Keohane, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said of the White House summit. “The United States has a role to play in this regard and a leadership role if we can show that we are doing the job at home. The summit is the start of something, not the climax. “
But keeping his promises to tackle climate change will put Biden in a difficult position, especially if he fails to mobilize enough support from lawmakers to urge the United States to take sustained action.
“[Pledges] are great, but what I love even more are the laws, ”said Leah Stokes, environmental policy expert and assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “What is Congress going to do?”
Environmental activists, climate modelers and scientists have paraded administration officials through scenarios to argue that a 50% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by the end of the decade is possible . They also say it is necessary to put the United States on the right track to meet Biden’s goal of economy-wide net zero emissions by mid-century and to put pressure on other countries to improve their game.
“There is a strong scientific and moral argument for the United States to do more than 50 percent,” said Dan Lashof, director of the World Resources Institute. “But to be credible within the international community, it must be both ambitious and achievable.”
That doesn’t mean it will be easy.
The United States has cut emissions by around 24% from 2005 levels last year, close to Obama’s 2025 target, said Zeke Hausfather, group chief climate and energy officer The Breakthrough Institute think tank. Economic and travel restrictions to curb the coronavirus pandemic have played a role, however, and emissions are expected to be around 20% below 2005 levels this year and 2022, he said.
All of this means that a 50% cut seems overkill, as it took 15 years to get US emissions to where they are. now. And it should find another 30% drop in just nine years, Hausfather said.
“There is a real potential downside if we promise large and insufficient delivery,” he said.