Biden gives new impetus to the global climate change agenda
Author: Robert C Stowe, Harvard University
US President Joe Biden is determined to fight climate change. He joined the Paris Agreement on the first day of his presidency, adopted a ‘the whole governmentapproach to combating climate change, proposed a number of executive initiatives and revived others to reduce emissions, and put climate change at the center of a broad proposal for infrastructure legislation – the American employment plan.
As promised during his election campaign, Biden also called a virtual meeting Leaders Climate Summit on April 22 and 23, during which he announced an ambitious news United States Emissions Reduction Commitment under the Paris Agreement.
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Despite Biden’s efforts, the Trump administration’s aversion to international cooperation and its climate denial is still present in the minds of other world leaders. They also remember former US President George W Bush rejecting the Kyoto Protocol after the Clinton administration signed it. International leaders know full well that the US zigzag on climate policy stems from domestic politics – and they see familiar danger signs in Washington.
President Biden holds only very slim majorities in Congress, putting out of reach the legislation that will be needed to achieve much of his ambitious climate agenda. The presidential green infrastructure plan is already in trouble in Congress. Biden could lose even that slim majority in Congress in the 2022 midterm election, and potentially the presidency itself in 2024 to a Trump-like Republican, jeopardizing executive action he may have. undertake.
As the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on April 16, in response to US urges to do more on the climate: ‘The return of the United States is not at all like a king who returns, but like an absent student who returns to class ”. China, India and other countries with significant emissions will continue to tackle climate change on the basis of their own analysis and perception of the problem and their own national political imperatives, not on the basis of what they consider as fickle and illusory American leadership.
Yet the United States succeeded in summoning 40 heads of state and government at the Leaders Climate Summit. These leaders may have tacitly acknowledged that, despite serious concerns about the continuity of U.S. climate leadership, a Biden administration ruling the world’s second-largest emitter is an improvement on four more years of Trump. Even though the Biden administration is only two to four years in power, they may have thought it was best to support him, given that climate change is an emergency and the years to come are crucial to turn it around. the emissions curve down.
One of the main objectives of the summit was to provide a forum for major emitting countries to submit more ambitious commitments under the Paris Agreement. A number of leaders announced new commitments, including the leaders of South Korea and Japan. China and India, the world’s largest and fourth largest emitters, have failed to do so.
But just before the summit, China made commit to respecting an important international agreement reduce emissions of potent greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide. India and the United States have agreed to fund and accelerate the deployment of clean energy technologies. Participants announced many other agreements or actions, including longer-term “net-zero” commitments. It is impossible to determine how many of them would have been announced without the Biden summit, but certainly not all and certainly not so dramatically.
Also as part of the summit, the United States relaunched two important institutional frameworks to fight climate change. First, the summit served to reconvene the US-led Major Economies (MEF) Energy and Climate Forum, whose members are the 17 highest emitting countries in the world and which had been dormant. during the Trump administration. Under the Bush and Obama administrations, MEF meetings provided a valuable opportunity for informal communication between high-emitting countries and helped catalyze convergence in negotiating positions ahead of the annual United Nations climate change conferences.
Second, US-China bilateral climate cooperation has been revived before the summit (Despite Chinese diplomatic sarcasm). Bilateral agreements in 2015 were crucial factors in the success of the Paris Agreement. International leaders watching John Kerry (then US secretary of state, now the president’s special climate envoy) and Xie Zhenhua (then China’s chief climate negotiator, now China’s special envoy for climate change) ) were surely encouraged – and perhaps encouraged to ‘activate’ on Zoom.
President Biden continued to show some leadership at the G7 summit on June 11-13, including a strong climate statement in his communicated. At least he didn’t get in the way. The G20 summit in Rome in October is also expected to benefit from the leaders’ summit – its 20 members include all MEF members.
We will then approach this year’s United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change in Glasgow in November with some momentum, in part thanks to the modest success of the Leaders’ Climate Summit in rushing more ambitious action and reforming institutions. to fight against climate change. Maybe the American leadership is back after all – at least for this year, and at least in Glasgow. And that may be enough for now.
Robert C Stowe is Co-Director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements and Executive Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program at the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.