“We’re back, baby”: New law strengthens US climate protection’s credibility

“We’re back, baby”: New law strengthens US climate protection’s credibility

WASHINGTON (AP) — After a moment when hopes faded that the United States could provide international leadership on climate change, legislation Congress is ready to pass could rejuvenate the country’s reputation and strengthen its efforts to to urge other nations to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly.

The surprising turn of events, which has caused joyful whiplash among Democrats and environmentalists, is a reminder of how domestic politics is intertwined with global diplomacy.

Advocates feared the collapse in congressional negotiations last month undermined efforts to limit the catastrophic effects of global warming. Now they are fueled by the opportunity to tout an unprecedented US success.

“It says, ‘We’re back, baby,'” said Jennifer Turner, who works on international climate issues as director of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

The legislation, which also includes provisions on taxes and prescription drugs, earmarks about $375 billion for clean energy development over the next decade and financial incentives for buying electric cars, installing solar panels and weaning the power grid off fossil fuels before. Though the proposals were scaled back during difficult negotiations, it is the largest single investment in climate change in US history and a marked shift from years of inaction that limited Washington’s influence abroad.

The Senate passed the bill on Sunday and the House of Representatives is expected to approve it on Friday. Then it goes to President Joe Biden to sign.

Poor nations remain concerned that rich countries like the United States have not met their financial commitments to help them deal with global warming and the clean energy transition, something the legislation fails to address. But Biden can still point to it as proof that the US political system can tackle the world’s most pressing problems.

“Our ability to have credibility on the global stage depends on our ability to deliver at home,” said Ali Zaidi, the White House’s deputy national climate adviser. “We are the pace car. That helps others to get faster and faster.”

After President Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, Biden took office and vowed to rejoin the fight against global warming. He set an ambitious new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – by at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 – and began proposing measures to get the country on track.

According to an analysis by Rhodium Group, an independent research firm, the law that Biden is expected to sign is expected to reduce emissions by 31 to 44 percent. Further regulatory moves by the administration could close the rest of the gap.

“It’s good that the US is finally trying to catch up after years of hesitating on climate change, and this investment will go a long way in helping to reverse some of the damage done by President Trump’s administration,” he said Mohamed Adow, Director of Power Shift Africa, a think tank based in Nairobi, Kenya.

The movement on the bill comes just three months before the next UN climate change conference, known as COP27, will be held in Egypt.

“Let’s hope this legislation is the start of greater international cooperation ahead of the COP27 summit, where the most vulnerable will get the support they need,” Adow said.

Although the US will continue to face deep-rooted skepticism, progress in Washington could also give John Kerry, the White House special envoy on climate issues, more impetus for November’s conference.

“It puts wind in his sails, it gives him a real credibility boost,” Turner said. “That will change the whole dynamic.”

Several experts said the US will have the authority to put more pressure on China, India and other nations that have high emissions but have been unwilling to reduce them for economic reasons.

“This restores some diplomatic legitimacy to the US as an influential player in international climate negotiations,” said Scott Moore, director of China programs and strategic initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania.

Shayak Sengupta, a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation America, a Washington-based affiliate of a think tank in India, was less enthusiastic.

“Considering that this bill is long overdue after years of US climate inaction, many countries might see this as the ‘need’ of US historical and moral responsibility for climate,” he said.

Sengupta stressed that poor nations are still looking to rich countries to meet their $100 billion financial assistance commitment to combat global warming, an issue that has been a sore point in international negotiations.

There will be no shortage of other challenges either. If Republicans retake Congress or the White House, they could undo Biden’s advances. Supply chains may struggle to meet increased demand for devices such as solar panels and batteries. China’s Foreign Ministry announced on Friday that the country is breaking off direct climate talks with the US in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, severing a rare juncture in the long-standing if sometimes tumultuous cooperation between the two countries .

But experts said if the US succeeds in becoming a clean energy powerhouse, China will still pay attention.

“For some time, China has been a global leader in clean energy investments,” said Xizhou Zhou, climate and sustainability expert at S&P Global, a global research firm. “They will likely see this legislation as a competitive move.”

Deborah Seligsohn, an expert on China’s politics and energy at Villanova University and a former US diplomat in Beijing, said the result could be lower prices around the world.

“As the US starts to really invest in things that compete with major Chinese companies — solar, wind, electric vehicles, batteries — you’re going to see Chinese companies interested in expanding their competitiveness in those Boost industries by manufacturing better products and lower prices,” she said.

This could have a worldwide domino effect.

“In developing countries, prices for renewable energy could fall and acceptance increase,” said Seligsohn.

Vibhuti Garg, an energy economist specializing in India, said US investments in clean energy research could pay off in poorer countries that don’t have the same resources to develop new technologies.

“The US can share technological know-how with other countries, especially the Global South,” she said.

Aditya Ramji of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, said the collaboration — along with financial help — will be vital.

“At some point, there will have to be discussions about how to give countries like India and other countries access to intellectual property or how to reduce costs to take advantage of electric vehicle technology,” he said.

Climate activists said the US legislation is just one step on a larger climate change journey. More progress is needed to put the world on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), a goal some scientists believe is falling out of reach.

“We have to fight for political commitments in other countries,” said climate activist Luisa Neubauer, a leading figure in the Fridays for Future activist movement.

“This is the only way we will be able to turn this year from a year of the fossil fuel backlash to a year of climate justice,” she said.


Associated Press writers Frank Jordans in Berlin and Sibi Arasu in Bangalore, India contributed to this report.


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