Biden goes to Glasgow with uncertainty about domestic climate agenda
President Biden wants to change the world’s view of U.S. leadership on climate at this week’s COP26 summit in Glasgow, but uncertainties linger whether he can credibly claim a leading role on the issue.
Biden is expected to tout the U.S.’s climate progress and how the nation is returning to global climate negotiations after former President Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement.
But a major climate program was recently stripped from Biden’s “Build Back Better” legislative agenda amid opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and the fate of another is up in the air.
“The stakes are extremely high,” said Liz Perera, the Sierra Club’s climate policy director. “We need to convince the world that we are serious about our commitments, even with our congressional challenges, but then the world needs to also convince — especially India and China — our Congress that they are also serious.”
COP26 will be the first global climate summit in two years since last year’s event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden will deliver remarks Monday.
Biden has made several moves to demonstrate U.S. leadership on the issue, hosting a global summit in April where he announced an updated U.S. commitment aiming to slash U.S. emissions at least in half compared to 2005 levels by the end of the decade.
“We’re excited to show up at COP26 because America is back in a leadership position on climate in a way that will be broadly welcomed,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Thursday.
The Biden administration has also taken additional actions, like saying it will provide more funding to help developing countries take on or adapt to climate change.
U.S. credibility on climate change is shaky because world remembers both Trump’s climate inaction and observes the difficulty the Biden administration is having in getting its climate agenda through Congress.
“I think [climate envoy John] Kerry and Biden and the rest of them, their belief in wanting to play a positive role and fight climate change is totally true…the problem with that is that they’re not going to be in power forever and the next administration may not have that priority,” said Morgan Bazilian, a former EU representative during U.N. climate change negotiations.
“The other countries have to be somewhat cynical about our ability to stay at the table for very long,” Bazilian, who is now a professor at the Colorado School of Mines, added.
The White House on Thursday unveiled a framework for Biden’s agenda, which allocated $555 billion toward climate spending.
The framework endorsed policies including clean energy tax credits, an electric vehicle tax credit, a conservation jobs program called a Civilian Climate Corps, tax credits and rebates to help people electrify their homes and investments in clean energy and sustainability projects through an accelerator.
While administration officials maintained it would win enough support from Democrats to pass Congress, it will not do so before Biden arrives in Glasgow. Instead, the announcement of the framework appeared designed to give the president more concrete talking points upon arriving at the global summit.
Administration officials and some advocates have been adamant that Biden remains a credible messenger on climate even without his policies signed into law by the start of COP26. They point to his executive actions upon taking office to reverse Trump-era policies that loosened emissions standards and opened up drilling, and his efforts to put climate at the forefront of his economic plans.
“The president’s trip to the Democratic House Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus endorsement of the framework gives President Biden the momentum he needs to summarize all the changes he’s made since the first day he was sworn in,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Henry said Biden “has wind at his back” to show other world leaders the U.S. remains a leader on issues like climate, equality and family care, even as the SEIU and other groups that form the Real Recovery Now coalition acknowledged more could be done beyond Biden’s framework.
Still, one key program, which would have reduced emissions from electricity generation, has already been stripped out of the Biden administration’s agenda. One analysis found that this program would have been responsible for about a third of the package’s overall climate benefits — but the president has vowed to repurpose its spending into other climate policies.
Another key program — which would seek to cut emissions of a powerful greenhouse gas called methane from oil and gas development — is also at risk.
This methane fee was not included in the White House framework — though a source familiar told The Hill on Thursday that it was still being negotiated.
And the fee did appear in the House’s latest iteration of the bill — text of which was released Thursday.
That legislation would set up both incentives and fees aiming to push oil and gas producers to reduce methane leaks and other releases.
Methane is the main component of natural gas, and is 25 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said he didn’t see the White House’s framework as an upper limit on the legislation’s climate policy.
“This is the beginning, not the end of how we reduce emissions,” Coons told reporters about the framework on Thursday before the House bill text was released.
“I’m hopeful we will show stronger action on climate,” he added.
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