The prospects for the Biden climate agenda vis-à-vis failure to pass legislation cutting emissions in time for the United Nations’ climate summit in Glasgow could be disastrous for efforts to mitigate global warming.
Joe Biden’s climate agenda seems to be on the brink of collapse. Time is running out for the United States to take comprehensive measures to cut global warming emissions. Failure to intervene will exacerbate what scientists refer to as “irreversible” climate impacts, such as catastrophic heatwaves, flooding, wildfires, and a vast influx of displaced people.
Joe Biden is under increasing pressure to advance a climate agenda. The president’s associates have cautioned that time is running out for the US to persuade other major countries to follow suit, both politically and scientifically.
The multitrillion-dollar social spending bill must be approved in time for next month’s United Nations climate summit in Scotland. It is widely regarded as the most comprehensive climate legislation ever introduced in the US Congress, with lofty targets for cutting emissions that contribute to global warming and climate catastrophes.
The administration’s climate bill must survive razor-thin Democratic majorities in Congress. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated, must pass in time for the major United Nations climate conference that begins in less than two weeks.
“Last chance” for the climate agenda
The measure incorporates a potentially historic mix of policies, which Pelosi has stated would serve as a “model for the rest of the world.” However, as negotiations between the White House, Democratic leaders, and a duo of centrist Senate holdouts drag on, the 31 October deadline for approving the spending package and a smaller companion infrastructure bill becomes increasingly improbable.
The idea of the world’s largest economy landing in Glasgow without an emissions-cutting domestic strategy will make it more difficult to convince other major polluters, most notably China, to do more at a time when governments generally fail to avert untenable global warming.
“If they show up with nothing,” Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse stated. “It would be detrimental to the US’s leadership, the conference, and the climate agenda as a whole. Simply terrible.
“The overwhelming majority of Senate Democrats recognize that this is our final opportunity to act,” Whitehouse added.
The bill would reduce US emissions by around 1 billion tons by 2030, bringing President Joe Biden’s aspiration within striking distance. According to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, the White House “would not oppose” adding a new carbon price to the bill.
Also, the bill includes a program of payments and penalties to guarantee utilities phase out fossil fuels from America’s electrical supply, a massive expansion of clean energy tax credits, and new controls on methane, a bioactive greenhouse gas generated during oil and gas drilling.
Sheldon claimed that there was an excellent probability of reaching an agreement following negotiations with Senate Democrats.
Factional strife within the Democratic Party could subvert the climate agenda.
The carbon fee, which would start at $15 per ton of emissions and gradually increase over several years, has long been favored by economists and some moderate Republicans as a mechanism of incentivizing polluters to switch to cleaner energy but has been largely ignored by activists and progressives in recent years.
These initiatives, however, will require the support of every Democrat in the Senate to pass, with Joe Manchin, a West Virginia centrist, wary of the $3.5 trillion spending proposal’s breadth and scope. Manchin, a big recipient of coal industry money, has stated that paying utilities to phase in solar and wind energy “does not make sense.”
Manchin is allegedly preparing to veto the climate agenda’s clean energy provision. This might be a massive setback for efforts to rein in deadly global warming. “This ranks among the most impactful actions taken by a single senator,” climate activist Bill McKibben posted. “The impact of this vain guy will be visible in the geological record.”
Whitehouse acknowledged that what Manchin would ultimately do was elusive but expressed confidence that “there is a window in which negotiations with Joe can result in a bill that reduces emissions sufficiently to keep us out of danger.”
Democrats are working hard to shrink the $3.5 trillion budget to around $2 trillion to win over centrists while securing progressive support. Among the other pressing problems facing Democrats as they race to meet their end-of-the-month timeline is how aggressive climate change is.
It is past time for us to move beyond the politically viable and toward the scientifically essential.
“There has been a lot of debate recently about what progressive legislators must be ready to sacrifice – what we must be ready to negotiate on?” Senator Ed Markey, a leading advocate of the Green New Deal, stated this during a conference call this week with reporters. “Yet, we cannot negotiate with fatal wildfires. They make no concessions. With massive hurricanes, we cannot negotiate. They make no concessions. We cannot negotiate with floodwaters, rising sea levels, drought, and temperature rise. We cannot negotiate for the impact of these climate-related disasters, which have already cost us tens of billions of dollars this year.
“It is past time for us to stop discussing what is politically feasible and instead focus on scientifically imperative – we cannot compromise on science,” he stated.
The bill’s waterloo would be another “Paris Agreement Pull Out” for Biden’s climate agenda.
Failing to pass the legislation would be catastrophic for the United States and the rest of the world, US climate envoy John Kerry told the reporters in an interview.
“It would be the equivalent of President Trump withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement once again,” he cautioned.
The Build Back Better agenda will keep America on track to meet its climate targets. Still, it cannot be the sole action taken by Congress to address the climate crisis, according to Congresswoman Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat and chair of the House select committee on climate change. Additional federal action is necessary to meet the crisis’s scope, she added.
“Even if we pass the Build Back Better Act in its current form, we will not achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, which is the target,” she explained in an interview. She added, referring to recent climate research and a study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declaring a “code red” situation for humanity, “We are going to have to do more.”
Whereas Biden has limited influence over the Senate’s maneuvers, the president has come under increasing fire for failing to live up to his rhetoric. Biden, who has stated that the “nation and the world are in peril” due to a “code red” climate emergency, has reintegrated the US into the Paris climate agreement and pushed to reinstate some of the environmental regulations that Donald Trump repealed.
However, his administration has approved a bevy of new oil and gas drilling permits on public lands, implored oil-producing countries to increase production to help lower gasoline prices, and declined to cease major fossils fuel projects such as Line 3, a Minnesota oil pipeline expansion that has sparked violent clashes between police and protesters. “I believe [the administration] has squandered a tremendous chance to join the fight against the problem’s root cause – the fossil fuel industry,” Whitehouse stated.
Seething hostility toward the president erupted last week outside the White House, with four straight days of protests resulting in the arrest and expulsion of around 300 climate activists. On Thursday, a banner reading “We need real solutions, not empty promises” was unfurled, with protesters urging Biden to declare a climate emergency and halt a slew of the proposed pipeline and drilling projects – a report released by Oil Change International found that if 21 major fossil fuel projects currently under review by the administration proceed, they will result in the emissions equivalent of 316 new coal-fired power plants.
“We felt as though we had someone on our side, and then he [Biden] backed down,” said Joye Braun, an activist with the Indigenous Environmental Network who traveled from South Dakota for the protests. “He made many promises to Indigenous peoples that he has not kept. Allowing something along the lines of Line 3 is irrational.”
The reconciliation bill is limited, and it is depressing to see the Biden administration continue to sanction fossil fuel projects.
Biden’s climate agenda rhetoric exasperates scientists.
Climate scientists have reiterated the urgency of the situation. The world is on a trajectory to reach about 3 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century; devastating consequences for people worldwide in the offing. To avert this upheaval, scientists warn that precipitously sharp emissions cuts must begin immediately.
“Unless we make considerable progress on CO2 reductions, we are staring a dreadful future,” said Drew Shindell, a Duke University climate scientist. “A world with a temperature spike of more than 2 degrees Celsius is not a fun place. The reconciliation bill is limited, and it’s depressing to see the Biden administration choosing to sanction fossil fuel projects. That should be firmly entrenched in our past.”
Recently, the White House and Democrats have pushed to temper expectations that Democrats would strike a deal before the summit — and that failing to do so would hamper Biden’s reputation as a global leader in the fight against climate change.
“None of our climate-related initiatives begin or end on November 1 and 2, or the week after,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last week. “Whether or not our agenda is executed will not be a defining factor.”
The stars may not align for an extended period to address climate breakdown. Democrats, who have endured a decade for this moment, risk losing control of Congress in next year’s midterm elections to a Republican party still reluctant to confront, much less admit, the crisis. It’s virtually inconceivable to consider not acting for another decade.
“We cannot afford another failure,” Whitehouse stated. “Unfortunately, we are unwilling to.”