Expectations were already relatively low for the climate summit that just opened in Glasgow, Scotland, though ongoing uncertainty about whether congressional Democrats can seal the deal on major climate legislation, coupled with underwhelming new commitments from China and other large emitters, is casting a further shadow on the talks.
As President Joe Biden and other world leaders arrive in Glasgow to offer high-level statements on how their countries plan to contribute to broader climate efforts, other officials will be negotiating several more technical aspects of rules to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement, while numerous groups hope to help build the foundation for on-the-ground progress in reducing emissions in various sectors.
While most observers are expecting any additional updated national GHG targets to be floated during the initial portion of the summit that features world leaders, some environmentalists note that countries can submit new targets at any time and are not ruling out that some could come toward the Nov. 12 scheduled close of the event.
Nevertheless, a recent flurry of updated targets from several major emitters -- including Saudi Arabia, Australia, and China -- are leaving many climate advocates unsatisfied.
In particular, China’s Oct. 28 release of its new goal spurred disappointment because the world’s largest carbon emitter refused to update its pledge to “peak” carbon emissions by 2030 and only modestly strengthened other aspects of its target.
The country also did not discuss whether it would join a new global pledge to reduce methane emissions 30 percent by 2030, even though one long-time international climate expert argued this could be a “natural place” for China to boost its climate ambition even if it did not want to adopt tougher carbon dioxide goals.
“You can’t sugar-coat, it is disappointing,” argued Bernice Lee of the British think tank Chatham House, in a report by NewScientist. “The world was expecting more from China at this point. It has missed a chance to slow global leadership.”
Meanwhile, leaders of the Group of 20 largest economies, at the conclusion of their Oct. 30-31 meeting in Rome, announced they would “put an end to the provision of international public finance for new unabated coal power generation abroad by the end of 2021.”
Some environmentalists characterized that language as weak, arguing it does not commit the countries to phase out the use of coal within their own borders.
But White House international climate envoy John Kerry, during an Oct. 31 press briefing argued, “I don’t know what’s weak about ending unabated coal power generation and finance by the end of ’21. Those folks were not supporting that a little while ago.” He also argued the G20’s step would prevent 230 million tons of emissions annually.
Biden during an Oct. 31 press conference at the G20 meeting acknowledged “disappointment,” though he focused that on the fact that Russia and China “basically didn’t show up in terms of any commitments to deal with climate change. And there’s a reason why people should be disappointed in that. I found it disappointing myself.”
Even so, he touted multiple items the G20 did adopt “to end the subsidization of coal. . . . I think you’re going to see we’ve made significant progress and more has to be done. But it’s going to require us to continue to focus on what China is not doing, what Russia is not doing, and what Saudi Arabia is not doing.”
The intense focus on countries’ updated Paris goals comes as Biden administration officials are striving to show others that the U.S. climate pledge is “credible” to enhance its efforts to cut emissions in the future.
That effort could be complicated by ongoing Capitol Hill debates over President Joe Biden’s economic agenda, which includes a proposed infusion of more than $500 billion for climate-related investments headlined by a decade-long expansion of low-carbon energy tax credits.
Biden on Oct. 28 unveiled a “framework” for a $1.75 billion budget “reconciliation” package, and that was quickly followed by draft legislative text of the deal. Yet, that failed to produce a House vote last week on a politically linked bipartisan infrastructure package with additional climate measures, even though Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was reportedly pressing hard to enact that bill to show concrete momentum.
That is leaving the precise path to passage for both bills unclear, even though some Democrats are suggesting that release of Biden’s framework and draft text signals that lawmakers are in the final stages of their negotiations.
Regarding the infrastructure bill, Biden told the G20 press conference that, “I believe we’ll see by the end of next week, at home, that it’s passed.”
Environmentalists are hailing the climate aspects of the draft legislative agreement, arguing that if enacted it would put the country “on a pathway” to achieving Biden’s pledge to halve U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and consequently help shore up the president’s credibility at the Glasgow talks.
“The process has been long and messy, [but] this is the most ambitious climate bill we have seen,” said Center for American Progress (CAP) representative Ari Drennen, in comments to Inside EPA’s Climate Extra.
Separately, CAP founder John Podesta during a press call sought to convey that the framework has broad political buy-in among Democrats, and that it “would “establish the fact that President Biden has not only promised leadership from the U.S., but when this package is enacted, will deliver the leadership.”
At Glasgow, Biden will have “an ability to tell the world, that not only is the U.S. back, but we have made a commitment, and will keep our commitment to reduce our emissions in line with what the science is demanding.”
As such, the next few days in Washington could be crucial to the ultimate outcomes of the Glasgow summit. Nat Keohane, president of the Center for Climate & Energy Solutions, during an event previewing the meeting said the “core” issue for the U.S. to regain its climate credibility will be having a “set of policies that can really put the U.S. on track to meet its commitments. That’s why the conversations on Capitol Hill are so critical.”
He added: “If the U.S. is not able to come to COP -- or at least leave COP -- and demonstrate it has policies in place [to meet its Paris target], there’s no way around it, the credibility will take a blow.” However, such a blow would not be “fatal” because Congress could always pass major climate provisions after Glasgow.
“Not everything has to happen by Glasgow, but that would certainly make a big difference in terms of the wind in the sails,” he said. -- Lee Logan (email@example.com)