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The real reason Biden is going to the COP26 climate summit

President Biden walks to Marine One prior to departure from the South Lawn of the White House on September 20, 2021, as he travels to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
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On Oct. 31, President Biden and the leaders of nearly 200 other nations will converge on Scotland for COP26 — the 26th annual meeting of the Conference of the Parties. Those are countries that ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1994.

Biden is going in part because he clearly cares about the environment, as we all should. But he has other reasons for going, many of which are more political than environmental.

To change the “Biden isn’t up to the job” narrative. Biden has had a disastrous two months, and he desperately wants to change the current political narrative that’s questioning whether he’s up to the job of president.

It’s a fair question. Beginning with his tragic mishandling of the Afghanistan exit, to the dramatic rise of delta variant cases and deaths, to the supply chain roadblocks, to the record numbers of undocumented immigrants flooding across the southern border, to the roaring return of inflation, almost nothing is going Biden’s way. And his poll numbers reflect it.

And at least some in the mainstream media are finally beginning to factcheck his often false, misleading or confused statements.

So, the administration hopes that seeing Biden addressing COP26 and reading a much-vetted speech will give the media and Democrats something positive to talk about. And it may. The problem with that hope is that Biden often goes off script or makes a hash of his speeches. 

To be seen as the world’s leader on climate change. Both Biden and former President Obama want to be seen as the game-changing leader on climate change. Both men see it as a legacy issue — especially their own legacy.

And one way to prove a country is leading on climate change is to promise to redistribute hundreds of billions of dollars to poor and developing countries. (Apparently, Biden sees leadership as redistributing trillions of dollars in the United States as well.)

At the Copenhagen summit in 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton salvaged what the New York Times described as “moribund negotiations” by proposing a grand giveaway. The major industrial economies agreed to “mobilizing jointly $100 billion a year by 2020, to address the needs of developing countries.” 

The developing countries were all for that plan — and still are. That’s one of the primary reasons they are so eager to participate in these meetings.

But talk is cheap; funding green dreams isn’t. Everyone agrees that the developed countries never met their funding goal. The debate is over how far short they came.

Undaunted, the developing countries plan to ask for even more money. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that at a July meeting in London, South Africa’s environment minister told the wealthier nations – including U.S. climate envoy John Kerry – they needed to pony up $750 billion annually to help the poorer countries shift away from fossil fuels.

If the major economies never come up with $100 billion in a year, why would anyone think they might chip in $750 billion annually? Yet it is almost certain that the developed nations will pledge to redistribute some enormous amount of money that they will once again fail to provide. 

To assuage his rich-nation carbon guilt. Most of the rich-nation leaders are consumed with carbon-emissions guilt — and Biden is more consumed than most. 

They – along with an increasing number of rich individuals and corporations – love to go to environmental conferences, where they can confess their carbon-emission sins and seek absolution from the other countries.

Oh, and promise to do better — though most countries won’t follow through on their promises. For example, the United Nations released a report two years ago to assess which nations were living up to their climate pledges. It found only two: Morocco and Gambia.

Folks, we’ve seen this movie before — many times. The problem is that instead of proposing realistic carbon-reduction steps that can be achieved – e.g., transitioning to nuclear power or cleaner-burning natural gas, implementing carbon sequestration techniques, etc. – these climate summits embrace unachievable goals with impossible timelines. And then everyone acts surprised, disappointed and most of all angry when the goals aren’t met.

For Biden, however, at least one of his goals might be achieved — changing the political narrative. He won’t be any more successful at climate change than he has been in other policy areas, but the media will praise him for trying.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.

Tags Barack Obama Climate Change COP26 Hillary Clinton Joe Biden John Kerry Presidency of Joe Biden U.N. Climate Change Conference United Nations Climate Change Conference United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

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