Energy & Environment

In Europe, Biden seeks to reassert U.S. climate leadership

Activists take part in an Extinction Rebellion climate change protest march on the beach in St Ives, Cornwall on June 11 on the first day of the G7 summit
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President Biden is seeking to reassert U.S. leadership on tackling climate change during his trip to Europe, working to convince friends and foes alike that his commitments will stick regardless of who succeeds him.

Allies are looking at Biden’s statements with care, wondering about his ability to pass climate legislation through a divided Congress — and about the possible return of former President Trump.

Samantha Gross, a former director of the Energy Department’s Office of International Climate and Clean Energy, said the flip-flop on climate from the Obama, to Trump, to Biden administrations naturally raises doubts.

“They’ve seen this happen and that raises concerns that in four years or eight years we’ll completely flip,” the former Obama administration official told reporters Thursday.

Biden is seeking to move an infrastructure bill through Congress that would include climate provisions, but ended talks this week with a key Republican, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.).

Progressive senators are worried a separate deal worked out by a bipartisan Senate group does too little on climate, and Biden is sure to face questions in Europe about the prospects.

“I’m sure the question will be asked: ‘Can you please tell us how you’re viewing the current discussions around the infrastructure bill, how does that affect your plans for getting to 50 percent?’ ” said Nathan Hultman, who worked on international climate issues in the Obama White House.

The 50 percent is a reference to Biden’s goal of cutting U.S. emissions at least in half by 2030 when compared to 2005 levels.

More broadly, Gross said resistance from the GOP on climate is a problem for Biden internationally.

“We have a Republican Party that certainly doesn’t represent the nation as a whole but is really focused on its base on climate,” she added. “As long as we have that we will have some challenges on credibility abroad.”

Biden has sought to restore U.S. credibility and leadership on climate by rejoining the Paris Agreement, announcing an updated emissions target and hosting a summit in April that was attended by dozens of world leaders.

“I think the U.S. reputation has suffered under the past four years under the Trump administration, and I think the Biden administration has … rebuilt that credibility over the first 100 days,” said Aimee Barnes of Hua Nani Partners, who has worked on climate change policy for the governments of California, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.

“I think there is healthy and understandable skepticism from a number of partners, but also realism and pragmatism that the U.S. is a necessary partner, and the U.S. has set its intentions clearly in the right direction,” she said.

Another elephant in the room is China, the world’s single largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

While Biden isn’t expected to meet Chinese officials on this trip, he and other officials may want to jointly apply pressure on the country, which says its emissions will continue to increase until 2030 while other countries seek to reduce their own carbon footprints.

“I would be surprised if they called out China,” Hultman said. “But that said, I’m sure that the message will also be, ‘Look, China, it’s great that you have a 2060 net-zero target, but China still does remain a significant part of the overall global emissions story.’ ”

Despite ongoing Washington-Beijing tensions, U.S. officials like climate envoy John Kerry have said this friction will not affect climate talks.

Barnes called climate policy a “bright spot in a very difficult bilateral relationship” between the U.S. and China. Kerry’s engagement with his Chinese counterparts on the issue is already showing “glimmers” she added.

Jonas Nahm, an energy and environment professor at Johns Hopkins’s international studies school, suggested that an area where the U.S. could work with Europe would be to create a green finance mechanism for developing countries “that would provide an alternative to the influence that China has had.”

Biden will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin later next week.

That summit takes place not long after the U.S. announced it would lift sanctions against both the company behind Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and its CEO, a Putin associate.

While the Biden administration reportedly determined it could not prevent the building of the pipeline without sanctioning German entities, Senate Republicans have blasted the decision, accusing the White House of capitulating to an adversary. They’re expected to keep a close eye on the issue as the two leaders meet.

Biden’s first international trip comes before a major climate summit later this year that will be held in Glasgow where countries may commit to additional climate action.

“The way I would look at this moment … is in some ways it’s connecting the dots between the president’s Leaders Summit [on Climate] with the arc of international action that leads up to the climate conference later this year,” Hultman said.

Laura Kelly contributed.

Tags Climate change Donald Trump G-7 Joe Biden John Kerry Shelley Moore Capito Vladimir Putin

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